At the end of the summer, Emaline will move away from home. She will leave the seaside town of Colby for East U, which is only two hours away, but may as well be two continents. First, she has one more summer to spend at the beach. One more summer of working for her family’s realty company and catering to the vacationers who rent their beach houses. One more summer of enduring one sister’s ambition, the other sister’s rebelliousness and her dad’s endless home improvement projects. One more summer to spend with her longtime boyfriend, Luke. Sure, they are both going to the same university, and sure, she will probably return to the beach next summer, but this is the summer between high school and college. This is a demarcation point, and Emaline can feel it. Bestselling author Sarah Dessen takes us back to the seaside town of Colby in THE MOON AND MORE, and this story of change, second chances and summer love is sure to satisfy old fans and create plenty of new ones.
"Like much of Sarah Dessen’s previous work, this novel thrives on filling in the details of a world until it feels incredibly real."
Emaline’s boyfriend, Luke, is handsome, handy and cleans pools with his shirt off, much to the delight of some of the female vacationers. Little kids love his upbeat attitude and high-fives. Despite his sweetness, something has begun to wedge them apart. Emaline sometimes finds his attentions annoying, and really, would it kill him to put on a shirt?
Regardless of what is happening with Luke, Emaline still has her best friends, Daisy and Morris, to keep her company. Daisy is an aspiring fashion designer who always clinches them a win for Best Dressed Couple at the Beach Bash. Emaline calls in favors to get Morris summer jobs, and he drags his feet through every single one of them. Still, she keeps him around because of his startling flashes of insight into the inner workings of the most complicated people in her life.
There’s her father, for one. He was a vacationer at the beach 18 years ago. After a summer love affair left Emaline’s mother pregnant, he sent regular checks, but had no interest in Emaline’s life. This lasted until a family tree project at school inspired Emaline to start a regular email correspondence with him, which blossomed into occasional two-family dinners. Emaline met her father’s wife and her half-brother, Benji, during these events, and they became less awkward as time went on. But when Emaline’s father reneged on a promise, he stopped returning her messages. She is still trying to overcome her disappointment when he calls with the news that he will be much closer to her this summer than she had expected.
Besides her friends and family, Emaline must also contend with a two-person documentary crew from New York, intent on drawing out the story of the quiet shop owner known around the beach town for repairing bikes and making pretty good pies. According to award-winning director Ivy Mendelson and her young assistant from NYU, Theo, Clyde Conaway was once a promising artist on his way to the top --- before he dropped everything to return to Colby. Emaline is skeptical that they’ll ever get the story out of the famously introverted Clyde, but she might be willing to help them try. Plus, Theo’s enthusiasm is contagious. He’s not exactly bad-looking either, even if he does wear girl jeans.
Like much of Sarah Dessen’s previous work, this novel thrives on filling in the details of a world until it feels incredibly real. The reader follows Emaline as she delivers items to her renters and bickers with her sister over whether a towel cataloguing system is really necessary. These mundane details round out a world we can believe in, and they also characterize Emaline as a responsible worker who takes pride in her job, no matter how much her family may get on her nerves. The reader even gets an odd sense of satisfaction in watching Emaline make deliveries and distribute keys to vacationers. Perhaps this is a response only for those with a particular penchant for order, but nonetheless, it is refreshing to see a protagonist so relatable that even her boring work feels rewarding.
Dessen features Emaline’s half-brother Benji as a major character in this book, and her ability to replicate the voice and behavior of a 10-year-old leads one to believe that she has spent plenty of time around them. Benji is innocent but aware, tactless but organized, rambunctious but vulnerable. He steers well clear of the stock little brother that we are all too familiar with and convinces us that he is, indeed, a human being who just happens to be younger.
The affection that Emaline shows for Benji makes her even more sympathetic. She loves her brother, is sometimes annoyed by him and wants to take him to putt-putt golf and save him from his family tensions. A recognizable sibling bond recurs between Emaline and her half-sister Margo, who spends a scene sniping at Emaline, only to eventually find compassion for her sister and squeeze her hand in solidarity. The same is true of Emaline and her mother. Emaline’s mother, wanting for Emaline what her early pregnancy made difficult for her to achieve, wants to give her daughter “the moon and more.” Some of the most emotional scenes occur between Emaline and her mother, but Emaline still gets annoyed when her mom eats on her bed and gets crumbs in the sheets.
Dessen gives herself several opportunities to churn out a predictable ending, but she resists every one of them. She does not feel the need to answer all of our questions, and we are left free to wonder about the future of some of Emaline’s relationships. This is yet another example of her ability to make her character’s lives relatable. Sometimes we don’t get the closure we need. Sometimes our futures are uncertain. Such are our lives, and such is Emaline’s.
Reviewed by Caroline Osborn on June 6, 2013