When it comes to relationships, Remy doesn't mess around. After all, she's learned all there is to know from her mother, who's currently working on husband number five. But there's something about Dexter that seems to defy all of Remy's rules. He certainly doesn't seem like Mr. Right. For some reason, however, Remy just can't seem to shake him. Could it be that Remy's starting to understand what those love songs are all about?
Remy Starr has heard the song a million times, maybe more. It’s elevator muzak, something you hear while pushing your trolley down the aisle in a supermarket, or tinkling in the background of a sappy ad on TV. Very occasionally, Remy listens to it in her closet, when she’s by herself and wants the hollow comfort of her father’s song … because ‘This Lullaby’ was written for her, right after she was born and before her father died.
The famous song her father wrote some eighteen years ago has since become the musical blueprint for all her romantic relationships;
Wherever you will go,
I will let you down,But this lullaby goes on
Much as she hates to admit the cliché, Remy has daddy issues – how can she not, when he wrote a song apologizing for being a bad father to her, and then dying before she was out of diapers? Is it any wonder Remy relies on people to let her down, and refuses to let a boy break her ironclad dating rules to really get close to her?
It doesn’t help that the summer after high school graduation (with University looming), Remy is planning her mother’s fifth wedding. Lucky number five – though how Remy’s romance-author mother can see car-salesman Don as a prince after so many frogs is beyond her.
Though Remy doesn’t have all bad romantic examples in her life – her once wayward brother, Chris, seems to have settled down with a nice (if uptight) young lady and they’re practically engaged to be engaged.
But Remy’s best friends – Chloe, Lissa and Jess – all reinforce Remy’s disbelief in ‘the one.’ These are girls who crave summer flings and disposable love. And when the only one of them in a long-term relationship is suddenly dumped by her boyfriend before they leave for college … well, Remy is hardly surprised.
Not much surprises Remy, actually. Except Dexter, member of ‘rock’ band, Truth Squad. Dexter and his band-mates have just cruised into town, repaying a favour and armed with their backlist of Potato Song opuses. Dexter’s hair is too long, he has a smelly old dog called Monkey and he rudely crashes into Remy and declares his interest upon first laying eyes on her – all of which is a huge turn-off.
So why can’t Remy stay away? Why does she let Dexter eat food in her immaculate car, and allow herself to get suckered into his dares. Why is she breaking all her romantic rules for this wholly unsuitable boy?
‘This Lullaby’ was the 2004 novel from teen-queen author, Sarah Dessen.
So, I’d never actually read a Sarah Dessen novel before ‘This Lullaby’, but I felt like I’d read a Sarah Dessen novel, y’know? The same way I’ve never actually seen the movie ‘Top Gun’, but know what people are talking about when they nickname one another Goose or Maverick – I guess it was a cultural assimilation of Dessen’s YA popularity that has just rubbed off on me over the years. I’d never read her before, but enough of my friends were fans so I felt like I knew her and what she was about. As it turns out I was both pleasantly surprised and underwhelmed to get exactly what I expected out of my first Dessen foray …
First of all I must tip my hat and say Dessen is a fabulous storyteller. Truly, she suckered me in from the first – she sets the scene and paints these characters absolutely beautifully, so within 2-3 pages I felt like I knew what Remy was about, and what her hurdles were. And she has quite a cinematic quality to her writing – admittedly, it’s a chick-flick, rom-com cinematic quality – but some of Dessen’s scenes are written so pitch-perfect vividly, I was already casting the hot young Hollywood actors to play the parts by the time I finished reading certain scenes;
‘You don’t want to get involved with me,’ I told him. ‘You really don’t.’
He stood up then, wincing a bit, and walked over to the bed, sitting down. Then he leaned in to me, sliding his hand up my arm around the back of my neck, pulling me nearer to him, and for a second we just stayed like that, looking at each other. And I had a sudden flash of the night before, a part of memory opening up and falling into my hands again, where I could see it clearly. It was like a picture, a snapshot: a girl and boy standing in front of a phone booth. The girl had her hands over her eyes. The boy stood in front of her, watching. He was speaking, softly. And then, all of a sudden, the girl stepped forward, pressing her face into his chest as he lifted his hands to stroke her hair.
That being said, some aspects of Dessen’s story did feel hollow … or not quite substantial (like eating fairy-floss, let’s say). For instance, there’s discussion about how Remy used to be a ‘bad girl’ – she drank too much, smoked (more than she still does) and was quite promiscuous. Slut-shaming aside (and this irked me no end), it’s revealed that Remy’s first-time that kick-started her reputation was in fact sexual assault … but that sort of awful, far more realistic rape where she thought it was inevitable and maybe what she’d wanted anyway, and the damage was done so why make a fuss and was-it-really-rape-did-I-say-no? On the one hand I understand what Dessen was doing – writing a far more realistic (and horrifying) encounter that not even the character would classify as rape – and how many other young girls would share that exact same experience? But I feel like a different author would have made that the crux of the story – instead of a skipped-over dot-point in this romance. And that’s a real shame in some ways.
Dessen also sets up the friendship between Remy, Chloe, Lissa and Jess beautifully in the beginning – right down to describing how this foursome have a secret trampoline in the middle of an abandoned field that they visit nightly. I loved that image, and looked forward to spending the entire book with these four friends who are dreading separation when they all go off to college in a few months. Dessen leaves nice little intrigues about each friend too, promising to make them more well-rounded characters; like Lissa being dumped by the boy she thought she’d marry, or Chloe and Jess hating each other and sniping at every opportunity. But these little morsels of information don’t amount to much more than surface-tension; we never get to the bottom of Jess and Chloe’s antagonism, and Lissa remains a one-dimensional scorned girlfriend throughout. Again, I think that a different author would have made the strong bond of these four girls a central-focus of the book; but ‘This Lullaby’ is first and foremost a romance, and everything else is allowed to slip by the wayside.
As it is, ‘This Lullaby’ was a very good romance. Dexter was this lovely, gangly gentleman who you can’t help but like, while also wondering what exactly makes him so appealing (Remy wonders much the same thing, throughout the book). And paired against Remy’s frosty scepticism, they worked really well together. Honestly though, I knew the romance would be a winner because that’s what everyone talks about when they talk about a Sarah Dessen novel – the boys. The boys, the boys, the boys. And, fair enough, if she writes them all as well as Dexter. And I was pleasantly surprised to read that I was just as susceptible to falling under Dessen’s romance spell … but other parts of the novel did feel like missed opportunities. This won’t be my last Dessen novel, but I don’t think I’m as smitten as some when it comes to her YA romances.