Dessen, Sarah. The Moon and More.

NY: Viking, 2013.

Dessen has won a number of awards for her novels and frequently appears on “Best of the Year” lists — but always as a “Young Adult” author. That’s a form of ghettoization I try to avoid. I consider her simply a first-rate author of highly enjoyable fiction, period. Her eleventh book is about 18-year-old Emaline, plowing through her last summer at home, working in the family’s three-generation beach-rental business before heading off to a nearby state university. A perfectionist, highly organized (she was the only 5th Grader with her own filing cabinet), and a naturally helpful sort, she’s very well liked in the little coastal town of Colby (which feels like North Carolina), and she knows absolutely everyone.

And living in a vacation destination means that when the rest of the world is taking time off and heading to the beach, her job is at its busiest. Emaline has a father, but she didn’t see him until she was ten, her mother having gotten pregnant by a young “tourist” while still in high school. And she has a dad, who adopted her when she was two, which also gave her two older stepsisters. (“Step” means nothing to any of them, though; they’re just sisters.)

Emaline also has a boyfriend, whom she has been with since fall of her freshman year, and everyone assumes they’ll be getting married before long. Luke is good-looking, easygoing, and dogs and small children love him. And he works in the summer as a pool-cleaner, sans shirt, which gets him plenty of attention from vacationing older women. But everything is going to change this summer. Absolutely everything.

The other major character is Theo, a film student down from NYU and working as assistant to Ivy, a noted documentary filmmaker, on an exploration of the work of a noted artist from Colby who had abandoned New York nearly two decades before and returned to run a cafe and fish in the surf. Hardly anyone in town knows about his artistic past, but that’s going to change, too. Especially since Ivy is renting one of the priciest properties handled by Emaline’s family, and Theo is going to be available when she and Luke have their big fight.

And then there’s Emaline’s ten-year-old half-brother, who is down for a visit with his father. The two of them hit it off, with the kid helping make deliveries to the rental properties and redesigning the business’s website. But he has his own problems, and Emaline doesn’t know if she can solve those, too.

Dessen is very, very good at creating credible characters, real people with many layers. My favorites in this book, actually, are Emaline’s two sisters, the pushy recent HRM graduate who has lots of ideas on how to improve the family business and the “hair school” enrollee who often seems younger than Emaline herself. Either of them could star in her own book. Which could happen, since many of Dessen’s stories overlap in setting and characters. It’s a believable sort-of love story, a coming-of-age story, and literally a beach book all in one, and I recommend it to readers of all ages.


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