If you’re a YA romance fan, then the name Sarah Dessen will be extremely familiar. For years now, Dessen has been one of the most beloved authors of contemporary young adult romantic fiction, exploring themes of family strife, loneliness, friendship, and love with deftness and honesty in a way that has proven highly enticing to readers of all ages.
With Netflix about to release a movie adaptation of her 2009 book Along for the Ride, we're taking a look at some of her best and most notable titles.
Last year, Annabel was "the girl who has everything"—at least, that's the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf's Department Store. This year, she's the girl who has nothing. Her so-called best friend Sophie has ditched her. Her older sister is struggling with an eating disorder. All of her dreams have either been put on pause or gone up in smoke.
A glimmer of hope emerges in the form of Owen, a reformed bad boy with a love of music and an annoying habit of always telling the truth. With Owen's help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.
The Truth About Forever
Mary doesn't have much to look forward to this summer. While her boyfriend, Jason, is away at Brain Camp, she'll be along working her boring library job and prepping for the SATs, with her scant spare time to be spent with her mother as they quietly grieve for her father. But sometimes, the unexpected can happen when you need it the most.
Soon, Macy is working for the catering company Wish, with its fun-loving and chaotic crew, and hanging out with Wes, a boy with a past, a taste for Truth-telling, and an amazing artistic talent. As she slowly leaves her shell and embraces a more open life, Macy wonders if it's all too good to be true.
Along for the Ride
Of course, we have to touch on the book that has become only the second-ever (and long overdue) adaptation of Dessen’s work.
It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce, she's felt tense and troubled by her family situation. Now she's spending the summer with her dad and his new family at the charming beach town where they reside. She's been promised a carefree few months, with the chance to make new friends, work in a clothes boutique, and be a typical teen.
Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together, they decide to become explorers: Auden will experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied, while Eli can try to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend. Together, the two loneliest people in town can feel a little less alone.
Remy's had plenty of boyfriends in her time and she's become an expert in enjoying that initial flush of romance before breaking things off when they start to get too serious. It's a dubious skill she learned from her mother, who is currently on her fifth marriage and shows no signs of slowing down. So why is it that's Remy can't seem to dump Dexter?
He's messy, disorganized, and clearly not her happy-ever-after type. If she was smart, she'd call things off quickly before she gets any deeper in this relationship, and yet she can't. Could it be that Remy's romantic rules to live by don't apply anymore?
Lock and Key
For the past few months, Ruby has lived on her own, managing to keep it together after her mother walked out and shows no sign of returning. But she can't keep up this facade forever, which is how she comes to live with Cora, the sister she hasn't seen in ten years, and Cora's husband Jamie, a wealthy web developer who has everything he could ever want at his fingertips.
It's a whole new world for Ruby, one she's hesitant to embrace. She must learn to trust again, but it's a long and complicated journey.
Someone Like You
Scarlett and Halley have been best friends for a long time, but Halley has always followed in Scarlett's wake rather than be her own person. She'll do anything for her friend, even when it feels like she isn't getting much in return.
But when Scarlett learns that her boyfriend has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and that she's carrying his baby, she's devastated. For the first time ever, Scarlett really needs Halley, and this huge change to their friendship dynamic puts pressure on them both in ways they aren’t prepared for.
What Happened to Goodbye
Since her parents' bitter divorce, McLean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move. McLean has lived in no fewer than four towns over the past two years, following her dad across the country and becoming increasingly estranged from her mother.
Each new place gives her a chance to be someone else, from the introvert to the popular cheerleader to the diva. Now, however, she craves stillness, a chance to stay in one place long enough to figure out who she truly is. Perhaps Dave, the guy next door, can help her find out.
The Rest of the Story
Dessen’s most recent novel was published in 2019. Emma Saylor doesn't have a lot of memories of her mother, who died when she was ten, but she does fondly recall the stories her mom told her about the big lake where she spent her summers. When Emma is unexpectedly sent to spend the summer with her mother’s family, people who she hasn't seen since she was a little girl, it's a rare opportunity to see the near-mythic North Lake for herself.
Soon, she realizes there are two very different communities there. Her mother grew up in working class North Lake, while her dad spent summers in the wealthier Lake North resort. She starts to feel the struggle of this class gap and how it disrupted her family, and the key to these secrets could be in the hands of Roo, her childhood friend.