Reading Sarah Dessen almost always makes my heart hurt. She’s been one of my favourite authors since childhood because of it. There is just something about her novels — they’re bittersweet, hopeful, realistic yet dreamy, well-crafted. Even though she can rightly be accused of having formulaic stories, they still work. They’re dressed up in a new way each time, and, judging by her books’ high ratings and decades’ worth of praise, her stuff speaks to people. I know certainly speaks to me. Here are some novels written in the same spirit as Sarah Dessen’s:
HONEY, BABY, SWEETHEART — Deb Caletti reads a lot like Sarah Dessen, but perhaps a bit quirkier. This book in particular is so, so poignant and multifaceted. It deals with a whole slew of coming-of-age themes: learning who you are as a person, standing up for yourself, discovering what is really important in life, realizing and fixing your mistakes, seeing the world beyond yourself and helping others out. I loved it.
THE FORTUNES OF INDIGO SKYE — Again, a Deb Caletti novel. This one isn’t as poignant as the previous one, but it’s got an interesting, if far-fetched, premise. It’s about how the acquisition of a lot of money can change you, the things that money can’t buy, and even the best way to spend the money that you do have (I promise that this comes across as wise rather than annoying and preachy — the ending is quite satisfying).
BASS ACKWARDS AND BELLY UP/FOOTFREE AND FANCYLOOSE — These books are like a slightly older version of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. When I read them, though, I thought they were a lot more mature and less simplistic than the Sisterhood books. Tonally, these books are different from Dessen’s, but the older-teen coming-of-age stories bear some similarities to hers. I remember this duology evoking the same amount of emotion from me as Dessen’s work, too. I actually cried while reading the second one.
SOMETHING, MAYBE — Dessen herself actually praised this novel as the best love story she’d read in a while. It’s a sweet, quiet, and realistic novel. The main character has a part-time job, mostly keeps to herself at school, and has divorced parents. The love interest isn’t walking perfection, but he truly cares about her. Tonally, the story is very reminiscent of Dessen’s work.
FIXING DELILAH — Although this story does have a romance in it, it’s primarily about family relationships fraught with tension and secrets. There are a lot of adult stories out there with similar subject matter, but because this story comes from the perspective of a teen girl who is just trying to figure life out, it lacks a tone of scandal and soap opera drama.
PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ — This is perhaps the least light-hearted book on this list, and it almost veers into adult fiction. It’s a complex exploration of grief and the other emotions that get tangled up along with it — emotions that we feel guilty for having, as if we should forgive the dead for hurting us just because they’re dead. But we’re human, and it’s damn near impossible to purge ourselves of every negative emotion, even when (and perhaps because) it’s time to let go. Note that unlike Dessen’s work, this novel has multiple perspectives. Don’t worry. It doesn’t feel overwhelming.