This is a fairly uninformed opinion, but as a casual reader of YA I feel like there has been a dearth, of late, of straightfoward, non- high concept/fantasy YA. Sarah Dessen seems like she hails from a class of YA authors from the mid to late aughts that mine realistic, if unusual, situations to examine the poignant emotional minutiae of the teen experience.
The Truth About Forever is the sensitive and quietly resonant story of Macy Queen, who had been the first person of her family to discover her father in the throes of a heart attack from which he eventually died. To regain control over her life, she threw everything she had into being as “perfect” as possible, from relentlessly pursuing good grades and proper, respectable extracurriculars, to polishing her appearance to peak WASPy standards and coupling up with an equally flawless boy.
To all outward appearances, she pulls it off quite well, but it’s at the expense of her emotional honesty, and her relationship with her mother, who takes advantage of Macy’s good-girl presentation to bury herself in her work, thinking she doesn’t need to “worry” about her daughter, or parent her much at all beyond milquetoast pep talks. It’s not until Macy decides to open up even slightly emotionally by finally telling her boyfriend of a year that she loves him, and is rebuffed, that she realizes that the construct of perfection that she has created is ultimately shallow and suffocating her. She hasn’t been able to properly grieve her father because she and her mother don’t talk about it and aren’t honest about how much it has affected them, and she’s willingly pursued a sterile relationship with someone who is perfect on paper but does not, in any way, encourage her to feel and experience and live.
Macy’s story is not precisely universal; she’s upper-middle class and her biggest “problems” may be small potatoes even compared to those of some of her peers and acquaintances in the book. But there is a sense of longing, curiosity, and insecurity about the choices we make that certainly must ring true for anyone growing up and into their own convictions. It’s a subtle story that rings true; none of Macy’s changes or rebellions are grandiose or histrionic, but they allow her glimpses into an alternate life that balances her ambition with emotional honesty. Importantly, that honesty allows her the perspective to forgive herself for not being “perfect,” as, of course, such a thing does not exist.
Sarah Dessen is frequently lauded by those who read a lot of YA. This is the first book of hers that I’ve read, and I anticipate that I’ll be reading more. Her writing isn’t flashy, and the stripped-down quality of it lends a perception of authenticity to her authorial voice. She doesn’t have to try to understand her characters, or teens; she just does.