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Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

November 6, 2009

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen
published by Viking Juvenile May 1, 1998

Fifteen-year-old Halley is having a dreadful week at summer camp when she receives a late night call from her beautiful, confident best friend, Scarlett. “Halley … can you come home?” A tragedy has shaken Scarlett’s world, and neither of their lives will ever be the same.

Halley’s life is changing in other ways too. She is drifting away from her mother, a developmental transition that neither of them are quite ready for. Her beloved grandmother is aging and becoming quite ill. And Halley finds herself swept up by the joy and anguish of her first love.

Sarah Dessen creates colorful, interesting, and sometimes delightfully quirky characters. She also seems to be exquisitely skilled at painting human emotions and the complexity of normal life transitions — as well as those crises that are unexpected. I really liked the way she portrayed the subtle ebb and flow of Halley’s relationship with her mom as she struggles to establish her independence and the tenderness of best friendship between adolescent girls. I was also moved as I watched Halley at her sick grandmother’s bedside, seeing her mother’s tough exterior slip, revealing raw vulnerability. Sarah Dessen also writes some gorgeous prose:

When we went back inside I only spoke with Grandma Halley for a few minutes. At first, when she opened her eyes and saw me there was no flicker of recognition, no instant understanding that I was who I was, and that scared me. As if I had already changed into another girl, another Halley, features and voice and manners all shifting to make me unrecognizable.
“It’s Halley, Mother,” my own mother said softly from the other side of the bed, looking across at me encouragingly, since she couldn’t squeeze my shoulder and pass this off as better than it was.
And then I saw it, flooding across my grandmother’s antique, careful features: she found me in the strange face looking down at her. “Halley,” she said, almost scolding, as if I was an old friend playing a trick on her. “How are you sweetheart?” (p. 190)

This is an unforgettable coming of age story, at times sad and often funny. We watch Halley, who has always seen herself as shy and vulnerable, become her best friend’s greatest source of support during a crisis which would challenge most adults to their limits. She see her find romance for the first time and follow her relationship with the attractive and charming, but unreliable, Macon. We also see her pull away from her intense, assertive mother, who has always provided direction to her life, begin shaping her own identity, and finally reconcile with her mom. I recommend this novel to readers who enjoy rich, engaging coming of age stories and articulate character-driven books, especially to teens.

You can read a sample chapter, on the author’s website, here. Read another review at: Fluttering Butterflies.

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