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Sarah Dessen’s ‘The Rest of the Story’ Lands at No. 2

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

On her tour for “The Rest of the Story,” which debuts this week at No. 2 on the Y.A. list, "I’ve had a lot of young women tell me my books were a friend in high school when they didn’t have many,” the novelist Sarah Dessen says. “Man, I know that feeling. I got dumped by my first love just as senior year began. I spent months carrying around Stephen King’s ‘It,’ much preferring that horror story to my own current one. It kind of saved me. The thought that my books might be doing that for someone else is a great honor.”

One of the reasons teenagers connect to Dessen’s novels is that they feel so authentic. “I just wasn’t very happy in high school. I had a lot of anxiety and sadness and dealt with it in not so ideal ways,” Dessen says now. “It’s a long way behind me, but you never really forget. There’s something about those sad, hard years. It’s very easy for me to put my mind there.” It helps, she says, that she still lives in her hometown, Chapel Hill. “I drive past my high school at least once a week. The memories are never very far, even when I want them to be. It’s hard to not think about your teen years when you catch a glimpse of your 10th-grade crush two pumps over at the gas station.”

Dessen’s books don’t sugarcoat high school experiences. “Adolescence is a time of growth, so I don’t think you can write a true Y.A. book without including the various changes — both chosen and not — that you have to endure,” she says. “That said, I try not to think too much about the audience when I’m writing. I’m just trying to get it all down. It’s in extensive revision that I focus on how the story will affect readers. For instance,” she explains, “in ‘What Happened to Goodbye,’ I originally had Mclean walk in on her sometime boyfriend in bed with another girl. While revising, though, my editor and I talked about how graphic a choice this was, and whether it was right. I ended up changing it so that the girl was feeding the boy candies from a box, which was more intimate, because it’s not just sex, but affection.” She adds, “It’s tricky because teen readers are very quick to know when you are pandering to them. They will stop reading. You have to be on your game!”

Dessen, 49, is definitely not a book-a-year author. “Writing is always hard!” she says. “This was the 14th book and it almost killed me. I guess for some authors it gets easier the more books you write, but not me. A few minutes of a silent, blinking cursor is all it takes to take me back to sitting in a library carrel at lunch, reading Stephen King’s ‘It’ and waiting for school to be over.”


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