Desert Isle Keeper Review

The Truth About Forever

Sarah Dessen
2004, Young Adult
Viking, $16.99, 374 pages, Amazon ASIN 0670036390

Grade: A-
Sensuality: Kisses

After reading a Sarah Dessen book, I always feel like I need to sit back and think about my own life and I how I can appreciate it more. Her writing makes me thoughtful. The Truth about Forever provoked the same reaction, and, as a bonus, it's her most romantic book yet.

Several years previously Macy Queen's dad died suddenly, and in grief, she buried her true self and interests and concentrated on making herself over into a high achievement version of Macy, the kind of girl whom no one would have to worry over, least of all her over-extended and highly-strung mother. But when Macy's boyfriend Jason leaves her behind for the summer to go to Brain Camp, she feels at a loss. Jason is perfect - an all-state math champ, student council president, the holder of the highest G.P.A. ever for her high school - and Macy feels like keeping close to Jason provides her with the perfect rudder with which to navigate her recently chaotic life. But without him there to provide the rationale for perfection and the activities to achieve it, she suddenly feels very alone. Her job at the library information desk is boring, and her coworkers (Jason groupies) make a dull job even less enjoyable.

Then by accident she runs across Delia and her crew when they disastrously cater one of her mother's business do's. Macy lends them a helping hand and Delia offers her a job: "Catering is an insane job, though," she warns Macy. "I don't know why you'd want to do it, when you have a peaceful, normal job. But if for some reason you're craving chaos, call me. Okay?"

And when Jason tells Macy that he wants to take a break from their relationship for the summer so he can better concentrate on his goals, suddenly chaos seems to hold a certain appeal. Delia needs her, the catering itself is fun and frantic, and sne enjoys her new colorful coworkers, as well as the very, very attractive Wes - a boy no girl could resist. But what will happen at the end of the summer when her two lives must come together again? Which Macy will she choose to be - the perfect one or the chaotic one?

Macy is a very relatable heroine, stuck in reacting to her circumstances to the point that she no longer knows who she is. She didn't choose to lose herself, but she did anyway. And her family conspired with circumstances to lock her into the role of the good student, the good daughter, the reliable one. Macy and her mother never really fully grieved for her father because they couldn't afford to and now they are barely communicating at all. His death stands between them. Neither of them dares talk about him for fear that everything will collapse.

This is not a book about the deepest throes of grief, but the author does explore Macy's loss and the losses of other characters in a very sensitive manner. In numerous ways her characters learn the process of getting back up on the horse that has thrown them, of learning to navigate uncertain waters and enjoy that same process of navigation. A reoccurring theme of Dessen's fiction is that life is painful and scary and unpredictable, but it is also profoundly good and also very fun. The trick is to learn to concentrate on the good without completely repressing the painful. This is a message that, in my opinion, cannot be conveyed too often. Most people could stand a gentle reminder to stop and smell the roses.

The author offers a diverse and amusing cast of characters. Macy's new friend Kristy is a smart-mouthed eternal optimist, the kind of girl anyone would like to have as a friend. She is good-hearted, friendly, funny, and quick. Much of her dialogue had me laughing out loud. Wes' little brother Bert is the kind of socially-awkward teenaged boy everyone knows. His passion is End of the World scenarios, and he spends his time muttering about mega- tsunamis and driving his converted ambulance around trying to hook a girlfriend. Wes is almost too wonderful to be believed. Sensitive, artistic, patient, accepting, and drop-dead gorgeous - he's any girl's dream for a boyfriend. Since the book is written in first-person point of view, the reader never gets into his thoughts, but Dessen does a good job conveying what it is that he sees in Macy, so their relationship is believable and very sweet.

The one criticism I have about this book concerns Macy's job at the library. It's highly unlikely that three young girls would be running the information desk together. Macy would more probably be working as a page. And the fact that the library is stiflingly slow in the summertime doesn't ring true either. Most libraries are busiest in summer with their summer reading programs for children. But clearly Macy's job is there to provide contrast and to reflect the choice she has to make between dull control and interesting chaos, so for the most part I was able to overlook the repeated descriptions of how boring working at the library was for Macy.

I finished The Truth about Forever in one day and after I read the last page, I flipped it open to the beginning to read it again. The writing is polished and symbolic, and as much as I wanted to read the funny bits and the tender stuff again, I also wanted to read for symbolism and see how all of the little scenes blended together to reiterate theme and message. I know this is a book that I will read many times because it's not just Macy's story, it's a story about grief and survival, life and hope. This book is a reminder of what life is and can be; it's a note from the author to enjoy life, and that's something we all need to be reminded of. For this reason I highly recommend Dessen to anyone who hasn't yet tried her. Please do go ahead and treat yourself to this book.

-- Rachel Potter

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