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YA A to Z: Sarah Dessen

The thing about doing this YA A to Z project, is it’s actually hard to just discuss one author for certain letters (Christa Desir! Eric Devine! Trish Doller! Matt da le Pena!). We had HUGE discussions behind the scenes between the 4 of us. We negotiated letters. We bribed. We traded. There may have been tears (and swears) (okay, not really). But I never doubted that I wanted to do the letter D and that we needed to discuss Sarah Dessen. I have been a huge fan of Sarah Dessen’s books for a really long time and they have had a tremendous impact on me as a reader and as a YA librarian.

Dreamland was the first book I ever read that dealt with the issue of relationship violence. Dreamland is also the first book that made me realize that books could inform and educate while entertaining. I had always been a reader, always. But I tended to mostly read horror, lots of Stephen King, Dean Koontz and John Saul. Occasionally I would steal – I mean borrow – my mom’s Mary Higgins Clark books. So when I became a YA librarian, I was like Oooh books. And then I read Dreamland and I realized that books could do more then frighten or entertain, they could really help you understand important issues (if only grown up me had remembered the importance of reading Deenie by Judy Blume in middle school). I had never known anyone who was in an abusive relationship.  And this was still a topic we didn’t talk a lot or very openly about. So Dreamland was the first book that really opened my eyes to a lot of the very important teen and women’s issues that I am so passionate about today. It awakened the advocate in me. It made me want to really change the world by talking openly about issues that I didn’t realize we needed to be talking about. And for me, Sarah Dessen is part of the reason that we are now having these very important conversations.

Just Listen just moved me with its beautiful writing and, together with Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, got me really thinking about the issue of sexual violence. Years later as I found a way to do the #SVYALit Project, I would recall how powerful and moving these two titles were. How bold they were in making us think about things that we really didn’t want to talk about, but needed to. Just Listen also spoke to my deep passion for music and how I would use it to escape for just a little bit each day to find my center.

Last year I was the fangirl in the elevator at Austin Teen Book Festival apologizing to Sarah Dessen but asking her to pretty, pretty please let me take a pic with her. In the elevator. She was very nice about it. She talked on a panel with writer Rob Thomas and was a magical moment for me to behold personally. As a paraprofessional in my early 20s these two authors wrote the books my teens were passionate about.

So, I’m supposed to tell you a little bit about Sarah Dessen here. Sarah Dessen was born in Illinois but now lives in North Carolina. She loves Good Morning America and is a fan of Robin Roberts. She Tweets about sports and books and GMA. I follow her on Twitter and she is honest and inspiring, she is great about encouraging and supporting other authors. But at the end of the day the important thing is this: she writes really good books. They have a deep emotional resonance to them, they capture the teen experience with a rich authenticity, and she really was a trailblazer in talking about issues that we needed to be talking more openly about but weren’t. Today we talk a lot about the inner lives of girls, about the sexism that we face daily, about gender stereotypes and how they harm both boys and girls . . . and Sarah Dessen was part of the vanguard, discussing these very things in YA lit when we still weren’t talking as openly about them in the mainstream media.

She has written 12 YA novels and 1 novella.

We often say things like, “we need more boy books.” That is a thing that gets said and it is annoying. And yet a couple of years ago Stephanie Wilkes wrote this great piece about how her boys loved to read Sarah Dessen. And I am glad that they do, because a good story is a good story, no matter if the main character is male or female. And there is no reason that boys shouldn’t be reading from the female point of view and stepping into the inner lives of girls. We expect girls to do it all the time with male characters and don’t think twice about it. But the thing is, trying to find yourself, trying to live your life, that’s a universal story.

Sarah Dessen, she writes good stories. Everyone should read them.

If you like Sarah Dessen, you might also like Deb Caletti, Elizabeth Euhlberg, Gayle Forman, Jessi Kirby, Morgan Matson, Sarah Ockler, Lisa Schroeder and Sara Zarr

Join the conversation!  Share a post about your favorite author OR tweet us your favorite author with the tag #YAAtoZ. While we’re sharing our favorite authors, we would love to hear about yours. We all might find some new authors we haven’t heard of before. And the more authors we share, the more comprehensive and diverse the list becomes. On Twitter, we’re @TLT16 and I’m @CiteSomething

#YAAtoZ Schedule: Week 1 4: A ; 5: B ; 6: C ; 7: D  Week 2 10: E ; 11: F ; 12: G, H, I ; 13: J, K ; 14: L  Week 3 17: M ; 18: N, O ; 19: P, Q ; 20: R, S ; 21: T  Week 4 24: U ; 25: V, W ; 26: X ; 27: Y ; 28: Z

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