The Rest of the Story

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Rest of the Story Book Poster Image
Sweet coming-of-ager explores family connections.

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 4 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

May spark readers' interest in extended family, and in learning more about their parents' experiences as teens.

Positive Messages

Learning the full story about your own past and about others in your family can help you find your place in your family, and in the world. Your connection to your family and places they come from can be a "home port" for your whole life, keeping you grounded, helping you find your way. Even if you can't be where you'd most like to be all the time, you can always get back there and reconnect with what's important, even if only for a little while. You can make your own life, or your life can make you; your choices determine which it will be.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Emma Saylor is mature and responsible. She has some problems with anxiety but uses coping mechanisms effectively, recognizes some of her behavior for what it is, is able to push through some fears when it really counts. She doesn't drink at parties because of her mother's struggles with addiction in the past. As she starts to realize how lucky and privileged she is, she reflects on her past behavior; her natural empathy helps her see things differently. Her family and friends are close and supportive. Love interest Roo is ideal, supportive, thoughtful, somehow always there when Saylor needs him.


Mild peril while sailing on a lake, from a hurricane and a tornado, all safely resolved.


Two or three kisses briefly described. Some dating, hand-holding, romantic feelings. One of Saylor's best friends announces a same-sex love interest; Saylor and another close friend are supportive and happy for her.


"F--king," "asshole," "s--t," "bulls--t," "crap," "damn," "hell," "bitch" (verb), "smartass," and "balls."


Clorox, Percocet.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Normalizes teen drinking at parties: shots, beer pong, offering cans of beer, sneaking champagne at a wedding. Saylor doesn't usually drink but at one party drinks four or five beers. Physical consequences like throwing up in embarrassing circumstances, getting grounded afterward. In the past, a teen died in a boating accident because of drinking. Saylor's mother struggled with addiction, drank heavily, died of heroin overdose when Saylor was 10 or 11. Brief mention of mother's painkiller addiction starting after she "discovered" Percocet following surgery.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Rest of the Story is a thoughtful coming-of-ager by YA veteran Sarah Dessen about a teen girl who discovers family secrets while spending the summer in a lake resort town with her maternal grandmother and a side of the family she never knew. Main character Saylor's mother died a few years before of a heroin overdose after struggling with addiction to painkillers and alcohol. Saylor drinks to excess once; there are appropriate consequences. A few kisses are described briefly, but otherwise there's just some talk about romantic feelings and some dating and hand-holding. An absent friend tells Saylor via text that she's in a same-sex relationship; Saylor is supportive and happy for her friend. Saylor matures and learns she's capable of more than she thought by connecting her mother's past to her own life and future. There's some strong language, including "f--k" and "s--t."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

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Teen, 17 years old Written byaugey July 15, 2019

The Rest of the Story

This new Sarah Dessen novel is so good! As the title suggests, the main character learns the rest of the story about her mom’s side of the family. It is a capt... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old June 21, 2020

Best Book Ever!

The Rest of the Story is a heartfelt romance that makes you cry, laugh, and smile. Drinking and drugs are used in the book, but they help explain and develop ce... Continue reading

What's the story?

Emma Saylor learns THE REST OF THE STORY when she unexpectedly has to spend the summer in a small lake resort town with a side of the family she barely knew existed. Because her mother had painful memories growing up in that town, they never visited, and her mom only ever told her vague stories about the place until she died tragically when Emma was still a kid. Her newly remarried father has plenty of memories of the place where he met Emma's mom, too -- memories he'd like to protect Emma from. As Emma uncovers events from the past, she fills in a lot of the blanks in her own story. And she may just learn how to start filling in the rest of her story, too.

Is it any good?

Once again veteran author Sarah Dessen has created a character teens will relate to, colorful supporting characters, and a vivid sense of place. Teens will relate to Emma Saylor's longing to know more about her parents' past, especially since her mother died, and her struggles to reconcile how the two sides of her family have made her who she is. She's not even sure if she wants to be called Emma like her dad does, or Saylor like her mom did.

The story moves along at a good pace and in a straightforward manner. It's a little disorienting at first, but then Emma's pretty disoriented herself by the unexpected change in her summer plans. But strong family bonds and a place she feels she belongs see Emma through, and show her she's capable of more than she thought. Teen drinking, her mother's struggles with addiction, and some strong language make it best for teens and up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Rest of the Story depicts teen alcohol use. Is it realistic? Is it glamorized? Is teen drinking a big deal? Why, or why not?

  • Have you read any of Sarah Dessen's other books? How does this one compare? Which is your favorite?

  • What are Emma Saylor's character strengths and weaknesses? What do you like about her, or what don't you like about her?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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