Sarah Dessen was born on June 6, 1970 in Evanston, Illinois. She grew up in North Carolina to two college professors. Growing up in a household of educators inspired her to become a writer. Well into her teenage years she found herself facing major obstacles. She has touched on an unhealthy relationship that she had with a twenty one year old when she was only fifteen which only lead to more problems she had to face. She has openly spoken about her drug problem and has stated that the inspiration for her books stemmed from her problem. She has used her mistakes as a way of displaying to her audience not only how to deal with mistakes, but how to prevent them from happening in the first place.
In a recent interview following the release of her most recent novel, Saint Anything, she stated that she doesn’t like the fact that her books are in the YA section of book stores and libraries because she wants to open her books up to a wider audience. She said that her writing style has changed from a “girly” read and opened her writing up to broader themes. Over the years her writing has transitioned from a light summer read for teenage girls into a more serious writing style that addresses the struggles that a girl faces behind the exterior. Her newest book has prompted several changes in the way she is viewed as an author.It marked the change of the subject matter that she would focus on in her future books. Her books have found popularity among teenage girls because of the romantic aspects of them, but her recent books focus more on the struggles that each protagonist has rather than love.
Her books promote independence and finding acceptance with yourself. What’s different about her books compared to others in the same genre is that her novels aren’t the romantic teenage cliches. They touch on sensitive and controversial topics and rather then a boy saving the characters, they find themselves on their own. She has even written her protagonist as a heroine who saves the boy. Most of her characters have tough home lives and their troubles can range from neglect to abandonment.
Her novels are commonly looked at and judged as “fluff” and “chick-lit” because of the femininity of the covers so only the readers know that there is a deeper story. The cover of her most recent book is a departure from the typical or traditional Sarah Dessen cover. She stated that she wanted the covers of her books to reflect the themes of her books. The book, Saint Anything touches on darker material and had some heavier elements than some of her previous books so she wanted to reflect that in the way her book looks and is seen.
She has touched on several controversial topics like depression, rape, self-loathing, anorexia, etc. The struggles that she had previously endured as a teen are reflected in her work through several outlets. She has frequently written herself and her past characteristics in the protagonist as well as the villains. Because her writing has stemmed from personal experiences, many of her readers find parallels of themselves in the characters and can relate to them. Some have even gone as far as saying that Dessen’s books ‘saved’ them.
All of Dessen’s books take place in North Carolina in either the town of Lakeview or the beach town Colby. Because most all of her books take place in the same community, she frequently writes crossovers in each book from her other books. Whether crossing paths with main characters, the mentioning of previous characters insignificant or not, or even having interactions with past protagonists.
Her writing has evolved and with that her goals. She stated (about Saint Anything), “It’s a little bit of a departure for me from the last few books,” says Dessen. “I’ve written about family so much, I’ve written about relationships so much. I think it was time to dig a little deeper.”
In the past 19 years she has written 12 novels. In chronological order, That Summer, Someone Like You, Keeping the Moon, Dreamland, This Lullaby, The Truth About Forever, Just Listen, Along for the Ride, What Happened to Goodybye, The Moon and More, and Saint Anything. Her popularity among the Young Adult reading community continues to grow. In 2003 three of her novels were optioned into a film starring Mandy Moore called How To Deal.
April Kang (9) stated, ” I really love reading her books because they aren’t just about love, they have a deeper meaning.”