When I think of Sarah Dessen, I think of summer. (Even though she does have, I think?, three or four books also set during the school year—Lock and Key, Someone Like You, Saint Anything and What Happened to Goodbye). Her new book, The Rest of the Story, doesn’t disappoint. It is all about summer. It was amazing, truly Dessen-esque, but it hasn’t made its way up to my top 5 of her books.
Here is the summary:
Emma Saylor doesn’t remember a lot about her mother, who died when she was ten.
But she does remember the stories her mom told her about the big lake that went on forever, with cold, clear water and mossy trees at the edges.
Now it’s just Emma and her dad, and life is good, if a little predictable…until Emma is unexpectedly sent to spend the summer with her mother’s family—her grandmother and cousins she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl.
When Emma arrives at North Lake, she realizes there are actually two very different communities there. Her mother grew up in working class North Lake, while her dad spent summers in the wealthier Lake North resort. The more time Emma spends there, the more it starts to feel like she is divided into two people as well. To her father, she is Emma. But to her new family, she is Saylor, the name her mother always called her.
Then there’s Roo, the boy who was her very best friend when she was little. Roo holds the key to her family’s history, and slowly, he helps her put the pieces together about her past. It’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of North Lake—and Saylor finds herself falling under Roo’s spell as well.
For Saylor, it’s like a whole new world is opening up to her. But when it’s time to go back home, which side of her will win out?
The story opens up with a wedding (her father remarrying—which Emma Saylor is totally on board with, fyi. There’s no evil stepmother subplot here, don’t worry), and goes onto Emma Saylor staying in North Lake for the summer. She was supposed to be staying with her best friend but that plan falls through. So off to live with a maternal grandmother she hasn’t seen since she was 4 years old, meeting various cousins (it was supposed to seem like she had a lot of cousins. But when you have over 20 cousins on one side and around 15 on the other, 3 cousins is nothing, so I found that a little funny tbh). She also meets Roo, a gorgeous, intelligent, insanely good with his hands, charming guy—someone she was best friends with, way back when.
I adored The Rest of the Story. Like true Dessen fashion, the main themes of this book revolves around self identity—our heroine being at crossroads with who she is, trying to figure out where she belonged without losing the other part of her—and familial relationships and friendships. And of course, romance. It was an endearing read and I loved Emma Saylor.
She’s wonderfully awkward, her humour is hilarious, the relationship she has with her dad, paternal grandma and stepmom is the best. But there were definitely a lot of characters, so for me, it was hard to keep track of who. I honestly don’t remember who April, Matthew or Ryan are. Like . . . what?
But regardless, the story had an amazing plot, was written in the kind of way that the motel Emma Saylor started working (that Mimi—her maternal grandmother) owned, to help out Trinity (a pregnant cousin, super fierce and snarky—I LOVED her) leaped out from the pages at me. The early morning scenes in the kitchen, with all the toast and the conversations, were, by far, my favourite. The family dynamic was so precious and real—it highlighted how close they all are, as a close-knit family. It included Anna Gordon, an awesome ten year old kid. Emma Saylor felt like she could relate to Gordon, or Gordon could relate to her, in a lot of ways.
At the start of the story, we see our leading lady going by the name of Emma, from her dad and her friends, but as the story develops and she’s in North Lake, the family she gets reintroduced to start to call her Saylor. That’s the name her mother called her. That’s the name Mimi knows her by. So here, we see her struggle to differentiate between those two names: which of the two is she?
“You can make your life, or life can make you. Was it really that simple of a choice?”
While she’s skirting along the edges of trying to figure out who she is, what name she belongs to, Emma Saylor also learns more about her mother’s history. Waverley, her mom, was a drug addict and alcoholic, escaping a tragic past in North Lake. We see as Emma Saylor relearned the truth, or some sides of the story, or the rest of the story, about everything that happened and what drove her mom away from the town.
“Part of grieving is letting go of the past. But how can you let go if you never knew it in the first place?”
It’s heartbreaking to read and go along with her as she finds out what happened, but with the sad, comes the light—in the form of Roo and the things he shows her.
The love from each of her family members, the boy who she once knew but didn’t remember, all shine through the pages. The lighter moments, the car rides, the dress shopping, the photo albums, the talk of fears, the Ladder Buddy, sealed this book for me and the motel and toast scenes bumped it up to a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Still, as much as I heart this book, as amazingly written as it is, it felt like some things jumped out of place—like there was this one scene towards the end, and then Trinity’s baby, it all seemed so rushed and sharp. That would probably be the only reason it’s not a 5. That, and there being way too many characters to keep track of.
Other than that, I think the story itself, the plot, Emma Saylor, Roo, Trinity and Mimi and Gordon were all skilfully fleshed out characters that were real and will stick in my memory for a long time. It wasn’t as amazing as Saint Anything (which is my number one favourite Dessen book), but I would, definitely, recommend it. The Rest of the Story is a great read for self-identity, summer and romance and family and friends, to hate on clowns and Hate Spinnerbait. After all, it’s not summer without a Sarah Dessen book.
Comment below. What did you think of The Rest of the Story? What are your favourite Sarah Dessen books? What book doesn’t complete summer for you, if you don’t read it?