This summer has been the Summer of Sarah Dessen. Penguin Teen has been running a 12-week read along of all of her books. I’ve had a great time following along, especially on Twitter and Instagram. Unfortunately, we’ve reached the end of the twelve weeks, and the very last book we’re reading is The Truth About Forever:
A long, hot summer…
That’s what Macy has to look forward to while her boyfriend, Jason, is away at Brain Camp. Days will be spent at a boring job in the library, evenings will be filled with vocabulary drills for the SATs, and spare time will be passed with her mother, the two of them sharing a silent grief at the traumatic loss of Macy’s father.
But sometimes, unexpected things can happen—things such as the catering job at Wish, with its fun-loving, chaotic crew. Or her sister’s project of renovating the neglected beach house, awakening long-buried memories. Things such as meeting Wes, a boy with a past, a taste for Truth-telling, and an amazing artistic talent, the kind of boy who could turn any girl’s world upside down. As Macy ventures out of her shell, she begins to question her sheltered life.
Is it really always better to be safe than sorry?
Sarah Dessen seems to have a reputation of writing light and fluffy romance novels. In my opinion, this reputation is entirely undeserved. While all of the books I’ve read by her do have a romantic element, there is so much more to these stories. Sarah Dessen is able to take real problems that teenagers deal with and translate them to stories that resonate with people of all ages. The Truth About Forever, for example, tackles topics ranging from peer pressure and expectations to grief and losing a parent. Furthermore, all of her characters are real and unique and flawed and represent people you might know yourself. There’s nothing stereotypical about any of them. As a teenager, sometimes it’s hard to find someone who is like yourself in a book, going through x, y, or z struggle, and Sarah Dessen creates characters that give people a chance.
Stepping off the soapbox, The Truth About Forever was a really enjoyable and relatable read.
Macy is struggling with guilt after father passes away and is trying to compensate by being as perfect as she can. One way she does that is by dating Jason, the “perfect” guy: a straight-A student who works at the library in his free time and is spending his summer at brain camp. When Macy sends him an email while he’s off at camp with some form of the phrase I love you, Jason responds by telling her she isn’t focused enough on her work and says they should take a break from the relationship for the duration of the summer.
Macy’s then left on her own to try and survive the summer, and this leads to a job at Wish Catering, where we meet her friends Kristy, Wes, Monica, and Bert. These four help Macy begin to find herself again and re-learn her definition of happiness. Kristy is quirky and outgoing and quickly becomes the friend that Macy has needed, way more than the perfect (and emotionless) Jason. Kristy’s sister Monica is known for her one-word responses and lack of emotion but plays a role in her own way. Bert is eccentric, buying a used, junk ambulance as his form of transportation and believing that the world could come to an end at any time. Even Delia, Macy’s boss, plays a role in Macy’s growth, giving her a safe space and advice that really hits home when it’s needed.
Wes is kind and artistic, and it quickly becomes obvious that he and Macy could be more than friends. One of the things that I love the most about this relationship is that it is built on trust (quite literally) and their shared experiences from each having lost a parent. Whenever they end up alone, Macy and Wes play a game called “Truth,” where they get to ask the other a question that has to be answered truthfully or they lose if the other answers. This foundation of honesty and trust between them not only makes for some great scenes between the two of them but also sets a good example for readers. Wes is the kind of guy that almost every girl would love to have in real life.
However, this story doesn’t focus only on the romance. The Truth About Forever is really about recovering and finding yourself after tragedy, learning to stand up for yourself, and the relationships that play a role in getting you there. Macy’s family, her sister and mother, play a huge role in the exploration of grief and recovery. My heart broke for Macy so many times as she held in all of the pain she was dealing with because she felt as if she couldn’t go to her family. Meanwhile, we see how other people deal with grief, through her mother’s “work addiction” and pushing away of any talk having to do with her late husband, her sister’s own form of distraction, and Wes’ artistic endeavors. And as described earlier, one of the most important pieces of this puzzle is Macy’s new friends, who help her find happiness.
The sincerity and rawness of Macy’s story is what draws you in and keeps you invested throughout the entire novel. There are times you want to shake her by the shoulders and help her snap out of her obsession with perfection, but it’s watching the growth and expansion of relationships that is so gripping. Sarah Dessen should be required reading for all teenagers. She truly knows how to capture the teenage experience and validate it, telling stories with meaning that are relatable, important, and enjoyable. If you’re look for a book that will make you smile, laugh, feel, and “sa-woon,” (as Kristy would say), I absolutely recommend The Truth About Forever.
And check out this cute video Penguin made as part of the read along campaign: