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Sarah Dessen Week: My Top 5 Girls

Writing this post sorta feels sacrilege. How can I choose just 5 out of her 11?! But in reality, I think this is a great place to start for Sarah Dessen Week. Her girls, as I have mentioned before, are all really incredible. They all show real emotions and reaction in real situations that happen throughout life. But in that linked post, I didn’t go into detail about each. While they all face adversity, each girl deals with things in her own way.

My Sarah Dessen books!
My Sarah Dessen books!

So today I decided that I’m going to go into more detail about my 5 favorite Dessen girls so that you guys, who maybe don’t read Dessen but TOTALLY should, can see exactly what makes each of these girls so unique.

Note, this was so hard, I stared at the list of Dessen’s bibliography for over half an hour before choosing my fifth girl.

5.  Emaline, The Moon and More
For me, The Moon and Moore is equivalent to the book Barbara Starr (Remy’s mom) writes at the end of This Lullaby. Am I already confusing you? Sorry! B.Starr’s book, while a slight departure from her usual formula, was something uplifting, highlighted her own growth, and showed a renewed, but realistic, sense of optimism. That’s how TMAM felt to me! Slightly different than the “typical” Dessen (which, if you’ve read her early stuff, you know she isn’t just a “typical” or “formulaic” writer – although What Happened to Goodbye felt a bit that way for me.) Emaline, the main character in TMAM, honestly has such a light in her that not all of Dessen’s girls have (for various reasons). I’ve read the book a couple times now, and honestly feel uplifted every time I see the world through Emaline’s eyes. And that’s not to say she doesn’t have her down moments. Emaline’s journey throughout the book is one to find herself without the context of a guy on her arm. First with Luke, her high school sweetheart, then with Theo, the out of town college intern, Emaline doesn’t exactly realize how to be herself while she’s alone. Her journey to figure that all out – even if she doesn’t realize it at the time – begins when her younger half brother, Benji, and her estranged Father come to stay in Colby (the beach town where she lives). As she realizes that she’s not so different from 10-year-old Benji as she may have thought, she’s able to help him while growing up herself. Seeing Emaline care for Benji and try to protect him from the disappointments she had faced is something that continuously resonated with me, because that’s how I feel about my sister. Emaline, despite the fact that she hasn’t actually gone to college yet in TMAM very much parallels the way I found myself in college.

4. Auden, Along for the Ride
-In AFTR, Auden struggles with what it means to live a “normal” teenage life. What does that really mean? Who gets to dictate what is “right” for a girl to do and what is “abnormal.” A girl who is whip smart and grew up in the spotlight of an even smarter mother, Auden’s never known what it means to be normal. The daughter of “intellectuals,” she’s always been expected to buck stereotypes and be “better.” But at what cost? Never understanding normal teenage fun, or not fun, means that Auden doesn’t have many friends. So when she goes to spend the summer with her semi-estranged-ish dad and super stereotypical step-mother Heidi, as well as their newborn daughter, things hit the fan. Auden’s journey to realize that everyone has their own normal – and that it’s okay to be intelligent and “girly” and “tomboy-ish” all at the same time – is a fun one to be on. The dichotomy of what it means to be “something” during the day, and YOU at night is perfect. During the day, Auden really struggles to accept that Heidi, super fun bubbly Heidi, exists in the same universe as her intellectual, glass ceiling shattering mother. But at night, when Auden journeys throughout Colby with Eli, she comes to realize that it’s not about what’s right for your mom, or dad, or friends, or the smart boy who bailed on you for prom. It’s about accepting who you are and being okay with why you are that way. It’s powerful. Auden’s realizations bring her closer to everyone in her life, which is what she’s always wanted. Yeah, I just love her. I love that she’s incredibly smart. I love Dessen gave us a character not just who didn’t understand boys,b ut who didn’t understand girls. Feeling like you just don’t fit – or aren’t allowed to fit – is something a lot of people understand.

3. Remy, This Lullaby
-These top three girls could all occupy the number one spot, really. These three girls were released back-to-back-to-back in Dessen’s bibliography, and I think many readers agree that they are the pinnacle of Dessen’s work. (Or well, of fan’s adoration, anyway!) But Remy, oh Remy. I won’t lie, I so desperately wanted Remy’s attitude and bad-girlish streak. I wanted to be jaded and tough and sexy. That’s what Remy was to me when I first read this book. By the end, however, I loved Remy because she stood up for herself, and her mom, and learned that sometimes you’re not right about everything. As a teenager reading the book, I definitely needed that lessen. The best part about Remy is that this book is not about her “finding who she is” like the other two I’ve spoken about are. (All of the books are about girls finding themselves. But this one has a different overt meaning). In this book, Remy learns how to love. How to love her mother, despite choices she disagrees with; how to love Dexter, despite his quirks and her strongly held “beliefs;” how to love her brother, despite the fact that he’s changing. As an admitted hopeless romantic, I loved (no pun intended?) this struggle of hers. I genuinely enjoyed seeing the difference between snarky, self-assured Remy and lovesick, heartbroken Lissa. I always felt like Lissa, but I wanted to be Remy. Seeing Remy “come to light” that love wasn’t necessarily always disaster was something that I needed to see as a hopeless romantic teen. Plus, Remy has so much fun.

2. Macy, The Truth About Forever
-When I started this list, I had Macy as number one. But then I started writing about Annabelle and knew I needed to make the switch. That’s not to take anything away from Macy, though! I won’t lie, Macy’s point of view helped me immensely when my best friend’s mother unexpectedly pass away a couple of years ago. Macy was the only person (real or not real) who had gone through that sort of tragedy in my life that was super young. Watching Macy blossom, honestly, I feel like the Grinch when his heart grows. It seriously makes me happy. I love Macy because I love how she learns to stand up for herself. It’s hard – she wants nothing more than to ensure everyone around her is happy. But when it all falls apart (again) and she started to rebuild herself at Wish Catering, she becomes a person I want to emulate. She learns to face her fear, her sadness, and eventually stops making decisions just to make sure she’s doing the right thing. She’s fun to watch grow. I love watching her life unfold through her eyes. TTAF is probably one of my top 10 books of all time.

1. Annabelle, Just Listen
-Annabelle! I love her. Annabelle epitomized my struggle with finding and maintaining friendships in high school, although I had struggles under much less tragic circumstances. Watching her relationship with Owen develop while she struggled to maintain the perfect image presented by her family’s “glass house” was truly inspiring. When it comes to anger – a very major topic of the book – I’m somewhere in between Annabelle’s silent flight and Owen’s intense fight responses. Being able to read about the extremes helped me see that neither is healthy – the only way to handle confrontation is through conversation. Ignoring an issue doesn’t make it go away; screaming and punching doesn’t make you right. It’s a powerful lessen that, through Annabelle’s eyes, made sense to me. I was incredibly lucky to meet Sarah Dessen in October 2013. She explained that this book, Just Listen, was one of the most difficult for her to write. When I brought it to her to sign after the event, I thanked her for everything Annabelle and the book had given to me. And I’ll continue to thank her – Annabelle is absolutely a girl that I look to when I’m feeling down. When I need a boost, I pick up Just Listen and fall right back into Annabelle’s life, trying to learn the best way to deal with all of the crazy things that happen to our friends, our families, and ourselves.

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