While it is not a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next, Once and For All is still a heartwarming read that you won’t be able to put down. Sarah Dessen shows her readers how important it is to appreciate what we have because it can be gone in an instant.
Seventeen year-old Louna Barret, Dessen’s protagonist, works part time for her mother’s wedding planning business. After a tragic loss, Louna shelters herself and becomes pessimistic about love and happy endings. That is until Ambrose comes in and challenges Louna with his optimism and chaos. The interactions between playful Ambrose and cynical Louna make the book very comical and easy to read. Ambrose’s ineptness and carefree personality pushes Louna to do things outside of her comfort zone, including stealing a dog from a mean owner. This relationship helps diminish Louna as the typical annoying, cliché character who is consumed with self-pity. Her evident growth through the novel makes Louna a very strong character, and allows readers to relate to her.
Other than witty dialogue, Dessen is also able to show how tragedy affects a teenager’s life. Louna’s grief reads as very genuine, as not only does she lose what she perceives to be her first true love, she loses him in an unimaginably painful way. Louna knows her grief is going to last for a long time, despite Jilly, her enthusiastic best friend, who is constantly pushing her to go out and socialize. In real life, teenagers struggle with loss, as it’s difficult to comprehend why it happens to ones they love. Louna goes through a similar experience, allowing the reader to understand and sympathize with her. Typically, I don’t become emotional when reading books. When the tragedy was revealed, however, I began to cry alongside Louna.
As Louna’s life moves from past to present, flashbacks are used. Usually, I do not enjoy flashbacks; however, they are done well and not in a confusing or boring manner. The flashbacks provide a good balance between difficult times and hopeful times, which add to the book’s realism.
Readers get a well-written story filled with lessons on expectations, relationships, communication, friendship, and love. Dessen’s developed and hilarious character will keep you laughing and sometimes crying, until the very end.