Never Just About A Boy: Sarah Dessen’s The Moon and More

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This is part of my Summer Reading 2.0 series

I’ve always been a fan of Sarah Dessen; she puts out a bunch of thick novels dubbed as teenage romance. In my early days of high school I saw them as just that, teenage romance novels. But ever since English teachers started pushing me to dissect literature and find deeper meanings, I’ve started to do that, the practice leaking into my leisure reading.

Her novel The Moon and More is about a girl named Emaline who lives in a small beach town, Colby, working for a rental realty company that her family owns.

Her mom met her “father” when she was a teenager like her during summer one year; she got pregnant and had to drastically veer off the intended course of her life to raise her child, and since then has married another man, known as her “dad”. As  long as Emaline can remember, her mom’s been cautious about not letting her father hurt Emaline the way he hurt her mom.

Her boyfriend Luke has been with her for four years, but then a new guy (Theo – a worldly, older NYU undergrad) comes into town and mixes everything up.

In the summer before all of her friends go off in different directions to college, I can very much relate to Emaline’s situation. The summer feels like a countdown, like everything that’s great is fleeting, and that naturally, friends and family drift apart when they sense the end coming. It’s as if no one wants to get attached, due to fear of being broken up when fall arrives.

The Moon and More is written realistically. Every day has her work intertwined, because no one’s life is a new development in boy drama everyday.

The themes and points that Dessen gets at span generations, comparing Emaline’s father (who began as only a temporary tourist boy) to Theo (a temporary tourist boy??? or nahhh).

It addresses the concept of leaving home for college or staying in town, and mixes in the idea of settling for school. I wrote about it over a year ago, when the prospect of college had only recently become relevant. In my post, I summarized:

Staying within your zipcode doesn’t necessarily say anything detrimental about the sort of education you are getting/going to get, but if you were never to travel outside the border in your lifetime, you’d be missing out on many life-changing experiences.

On Independence

I don’t necessarily agree 100% with this anymore. I’ve since learned of major circumstances (weighing scholarships, considering financial barriers) that make it so lots of brilliant individuals go to school in-state. I no longer believe that it should be considered settling, because we’re all going to do different things with the parameters set for us.

Now, in this book, Emaline is presented with two very different boys, Luke and Theo. The reader feels as though whichever one Emaline ends up choosing represents something about the course her life will eventually take. Dessen reminds us in the end that this isn’t at all how reality operates, and surprises us with a twist.

The reason Theo comes to town is to work on a documentary with his bossy boss Ivy about a past-renowned artist named Clyde Conaway; the comparison between Clyde’s interactions with Ivy and Emaline’s interactions with Theo paint yet another generation-spanning theme about what some consider the real world and what other’s consider fantasy, the quaint town of Colby. As Clyde explains, his artistic success led to one of his paintings being sold for a half million dollars, while his own father struggled his whole life to make a fraction of that to raise him. Realizing this, a disgusted Clyde abandons his practice and returns to Colby, convinced that he’d lost himself.

Benji is Emaline’s half-brother, a much-appreciated character that sheds blunt insight about what is truly happening as everyone around him, older, likes to dodge bullets and avoid elephants. His unknowing optimism allows him to state the truth, though his strict upbringing makes him, in some ways, wise and mature beyond his years.

This story highlights the different mindset that people can take on with their jobs, starting with Emaline, who carries out her summer job with a sort of monotony, treating each tourist as politely as possible, but as solely that, a tourist who leaves in a matter of weeks (until Theo comes in and complicates things).

Ivy, the successful documentary filmmaker, takes her project very seriously, yet exudes an energetic passion about it. Theo, her assistant, yields a similar passion but masks it with his strong desire and expectation to constantly move up and up and up in the world.

The thing about Sarah Dessen’s books is that they are never just about a guy and a girl, or a girl’s life and a boy that comes and goes, super one-dimensional when it comes to a secondary character. The boy has a life too, and that life has meaning and symbolism. The big picture never comes down to the girl and the boy, and the resolution is always about much more.

What’s your favorite Sarah Dessen book?

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