All her life, Emaline has watched young tourists in Colby— the seaside town where her family manages rental homes— living it up in a vacation wonderland totally separate from their ordinary lives. And all her life, she’s felt like a piece of scenery in their exciting stories, never having a wild adventure of her own. But the summer before she leaves for college, drama catches up with her. Her long-term boyfriend, Luke, is suddenly leaving her life, and her biological father, who she hasn’t heard from in months, suddenly enters it, along with Theo, a zealous young New Yorker who is assisting a tyrannical Devil Wears Prada-esque filmmaker in creating a documentary about a reclusive local artist. Emaline finds herself caught between the old and the new, the familiar and the mysterious, as she prepares to embark on the beginning of her adult life.
This was another solidly entertaining book from Sarah Dessen, queen of contemporary YA. All hail Sarah Dessen! It didn’t surpass some of her previous books for me, but it was still strong. The story wrapped me in, the characters made me care about them, and the whole thing had the polish and irresistible charm that each of her books has. I especially enjoyed reading about the documentary-making process, and about Emaline’s friendship with her hyperactive ten-year-old half brother, Benji. Emaline was a likeable narrator, compassionate, smart, and independent. Some of the supporting characters maybe could have been developed a little further; or maybe it was Emaline’s relationships with them that could have used more development. Some of her friendships and familial relationships were introduced and described a certain way through exposition, and then weren’t pushed and explored as much as they could have been during the actual story. But everyone had their angles, and no one was a caricature.
Sarah Dessen is always very good at complex, realistic romance. The romantic aspects of the story were full of twists and turns, good and bad, and I was never sure how to feel about who Emaline should choose— which is exactly how Emaline felt, and how real people feel in their actual love lives. It was very well done. And, without giving too much away, she doesn’t shy away from leaving things unsure, rather than needing everything tied up with a bow Ever After, which I think is admirable and a really thing to introduce in books for teenage girls. In the romance and in the platonic sections, no character felt things or did things without good motivation and reason, and that means I was right there with them, having the same feelings and reactions, which makes for emotional engagement with the story. I didn’t have to just accept that a character was angry because it said they were angry; I was angry on my own accord.
My mom, who also read it, pointed out that we don’t know what Emaline wants to study in college, and I agree that I’m not really sure what she’s hoping to do with her life, which would be nice to know. She also feels that her father’s reasons for being how he is could have been clearer, which I somewhat agree with, but I can also see how it’s not something Emaline will probably ever understand, and that means we don’t really need to, either.
So The Moon and More hasn’t beat out some of Sarah’s previous novels in my heart, but I very much enjoyed reading it, and am glad to have it as one of the smallish number of books I own. The things I said that were critical were just ruminations, since I felt obligated to say something more concrete than “this is a great book, duh, it’s Sarah Dessen, go read it.” But now that I’ve done my duty: This is a great book. Duh, it’s Sarah Dessen! Go read it!