A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Once and for All is a tender romance by Sarah Dessen (Saint Anything) about taking chances and looking beyond first impressions. There's a lot of heartbreak in the characters' backgrounds: Louna's first real boyfriend died violently, her father died in an accident after walking out on his family, both her mom and her gay godfather immerse themselves in work to avoid taking chances on romantic relationships, and her new friend Ambrose is considered the black sheep in his family. The story includes a very romanticized account of a girl's first time having sex. Teens drink at parties, and one has a hangover. The main characters appear to be all white, and there are some awkwardly forced, stereotypical descriptions of nonwhite characters who make fleeting appearances.
What's the story?
Louna has no illusions about love in ONCE AND FOR ALL. She's seen too much while helping her wedding-organizer mother and godfather handle every nuptial drama imaginable -- and a personal tragedy has left her emotionally raw. She's immediately annoyed by Ambrose, the quirky girl-magnet brother of an important client. She's even more irritated when her mother hires him and assigns Louna to keep him out of trouble. Louna finds Ambrose exasperating but is surprised by his enthusiasm and kindness. The pair make a bet: Ambrose is challenged to settle down with one girl, and Louna is challenged to start casually dating. As the summer goes on, what began as a lighthearted bet begins to feel much more important -- and confusing.
Is it any good?
Prolific author Sarah Dessen delivers another solid, charming romance with this story of a grieving girl learning to embrace life -- and love -- again after being shattered by a shocking tragedy. Set against a busy summer of wedding planning, Once and for All confronts cynicism over true love and arrives at a gentle conclusion: Worrying too much about how things could end means you risk missing out on all the wonderful moments possible along the way.
Louna is a smart, grounded teen, which makes her struggle all the more touching. Dessen portrays Ambrose with classic romantic charm without exploring why he's struggling to get along in the world. Despite the heavy backstory, this proves to be a warm and light romance -- perfect summer reading.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the depiction of marriage and long-term relationships in Once and for All. Do you think the book winds up being optimistic or pessimistic about long-lasting love?
Why do you think romance is such a popular genre? Do you find these stories illuminating and helpful, or are they just engaging fantasies?
How have you worked through grief? What helped you? How did it change you?
Our editors recommend
For kids who love romance and stories about coping with grief
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