I have now read 5 novels by Sarah Dessen.
1. Just Listen
2. What Happened to Good-Bye
3. Along for the Ride
4. Lock and Key
5. The Truth About Forever
I read the first because the girls at my school were clamoring for me to buy some Dessen books. I knew nothing about them to help make any sort of decision so I decided to read one. The next I read because of a committee I serve on. After that I just kind of got hooked. I will not probably go any further back in publication dates that I have with 2004. I will probably keep up with new books though.
Reasons I like the books:
A. Realistic female protagonists
C. No violence
D. No sex
E. Real, but not hugely heavy problems. By this I mean these are characters and issues many "normal" kids can relate to: divorce, high parental expectations, shallow peers, death in the family, step- families. There is no doubt in my mind there is a place for YA literature that addresses the heavy issues. Laurie Halse Anderson does this supremely well. (ie Speak, Wintergirls) But I also think kids who are not facing these types of issues need books with characters who deal with what they understand. Dessen's books fill this niche.
Issues I have with the books:
1. All the high school age teenagers in the books seem to drink and there are never any repercussions or ever even any comments made about this. While I am not naive enough to think this does not go on, I do wish she would occasionally throw in a character who speaks out against underage drinking. This is one problem that makes it difficult for me to put these books in my middle school library. (This is not a flaw in the books per se, they are not meant for a middle school audience, but the desire to hear someone comment negatively on the drinking is still valid.)
2. The story lines are somewhat predictable. This does not seem to be a problem with teens. In fact I know from my own youthful reading of many, many Nancy Drew mysteries, that young readers either do not notice, do not mind, or find comfort in predictable, repetitive plot elements. As a more savvy adult reader this does bug me some. This will probably not stop me from reading future publications.
3. Despite different names and issues, the heroines begin to blend together. They just do not stick out as being unique.
I think the pros outweigh the cons as far as overall quality of the books. The story lines are engaging, the characters are believeable, and teen readers (primarily females) can see a lot of themselves and their friends in the characters.