I can always tell when I’ve read a wonderful novel. Days afterward, I’m still thinking about the characters and wondering what they’re up to! Such was the case this past week when I inhaled Sarah Dessen’s 2019 novel, The Rest of the Story.
The novel centers around seventeen-year-old Emma Saylor Payne. When her father remarries, she is unexpectedly sent to spend three weeks with her late mother’s family in North Lake. Emma’s mom died when she was twelve of a drug overdose, and even before then, Emma had very little contact with her mother’s side of the family.
Emma has grown up with a dentist father from a well-to-do family who avoids talking about her mother. So, when she arrives at North Lake, Emma, whose much less well-off mother’s relatives know her as Saylor, is determined to find out what she can about her mom and her mother’s family. Roo, the boy she falls for, helps her put the pieces of her past together. By the end of the summer, she’s found a richer, more fully nuanced sense of who she is and where she fits and knows she will regularly return to North Lake.
What I particularly loved about this book, in addition to Emma Saylor’s delightful voice, is the rich cast of characters at North Lake. There’s her warm-hearted grandmother Mimi who runs a motel, her very pregnant and whiny older cousin Trinity, another cousin Bailey who longs to hang out with the wealthy boys at the nearby North Lake resort, and ten-year-old bookworm Jordan who, like Emma Saylor, has a troubled mom unable to care for her.
The setting is beautifully depicted, and I felt I was right there with these folks. In a recent guest blog post on Jane Friedman’s site for writers, Joe Ponepinto comments that the very best books are ones where you’re so involved in the story that you’re not even aware of the writer’s presence. This is definitely how I felt reading The Rest of the Story. I found myself totally immersed in this other world.
Long after my own adolescence, I fell in love with Sarah Dessen’s books for young adults. She never disappoints!