Book Review: ‘Someone Like You’ by Sarah Dessen

Recently The Daily Quirk was invited to participate in the #IHeartDessen summer campaign in support of the reigning queen of YA contemporary writing, Sarah Dessen. I jumped at the chance to review one of Dessen’s early novels, Someone Like You – because unlike most of her other books, I hadn’t read Someone Like You since I was in college and very close to the ages of the main characters. I was interested to see how the story had aged and how I felt about it now, at a much different place in my life.

Someone Like You tells the story of Halley, a teenager who is just beginning to experience tension with her parents. Halley has always been a good girl with very close relationship with her mother, but as the book begins she starts to experiment with pushing boundaries. Meanwhile, Halley’s best friend Scarlett finds out she is pregnant with the child of her now-dead summer boyfriend, Michael. Also in the picture is Macon, Michael’s best friend and the kind of bad boy who is more than willing to help Halley with her boundary-pushing.

I expected to find Someone Like You to be familiar and comforting, which it certainly was. Many of Dessen’s trademarks can be found – the fantastic friendship between Halley and Scarlett, for one. Slightly offbeat side characters (like Hallie’s mother’s LARPing boyfriend) and bittersweet teenage lessons learned are also present, although it’s apparent Dessen has grown significantly as a writer in the past 15 years. The bones are in Someone Like You, but Dessen has really learned to flesh out her characters and their relationships more fully and really pull readers into these coming-of-age stories.

When Someone Like You was originally released in 1998, the world was a very different place for teenagers. Personal computers and cell phones were just beginning to gain popularity. Social networks and texting weren’t around, and certainly weren’t an integral part of teenagers’ day-to-day lives. I was curious how time had treated Someone Like You, and I’m happy to report that the story held up extremely well. Sure, it’s a bit of a novelty reading about a contemporary teenage relationship restricted by landline telephones, but the story itself focuses so much on the characters that these things barely register and certainly aren’t problematic. It really shows how timeless both Dessen’s stories and writing are.

While I enjoyed re-reading Someone Like You, my own age and life experience made it harder for me to dig in to the story than the first time around. More than most Dessen books it is really targeted specifically to teenagers and feels a bit more after-school-special-let’s-learn-a-lesson than her usual fare. That’s not a bad thing in general – it’s great for teen readers who will be able to relate to Halley’’s rebellion and see her mistakes and how she learns from them. But reading it as an adult…I found it much harder to sympathize with Halley’’s choices. Dessen has since refined her style and is more than capable of writing flawed characters like Halley in a more universally-relatable way. When I read a more recent Sarah Dessen book (like the fantastic Saint Anything), I don’t feel like I relate more with the parents than the children.

Ultimately, though, Someone Like You is a story of friendship, and that’s one thing Dessen gets just right with Halley and Scarlett. I love that these girls support each other and look out for each other. When there is tension or fighting, it’s always because one girl is concerned about the other, and it’s resolved maturely. It’s such a fantastic portrayal of friendship between teenage girls, which can be handled so carelessly in contemporary YA. If you’ve never read Someone Like You or are like me and haven’t read it in years, it’s a quick, poignant summer read worth checking out for many reasons, but especially to get a peek at Halley & Scarlett’s friendship. And if you enjoy the book, I’ll also recommend How to Deal, a 2003 movie starring Mandy Moore and Allison Janney that is mostly based on Someone Like You, with a few elements from another early Dessen novel (That Summer) thrown in for good measure.

Be sure to check out #IHeartDessen on social media for more Sarah Dessen love!

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