She’s got it all figured out.
Or does she? When it comes to relationships, Remy’s got a whole set of rules.
Never get too serious. Never let him break your heart. And never, ever date a musician.
But then Remy meets Dexter, and the rules don’t seem to apply anymore.
Could it be that she’s starting to understand what all those love songs are about?
Rating: 2 stars
As you may or may not have read already, I’ve been on a mission to not only reread old Sarah Dessen books, but to also finally read any that I never got around to as a teenager. This Lullaby was one of the few books of Dessen’s that I hadn’t previously read and now that I have, I’m actually kind of… disappointed, maybe? I know, I’m even shocking myself by saying something negative about a book by an author that I have honestly always adored, but it is what it is.
The main problem for me was that the book lacks any real, consistent plot beyond the relationship. A lot of her books can be a bit like that, sure, but this is a serious offender. The thing was, I was always waiting to figure out what was actually going on. Turns out, there really wasn’t anything. It was kind of like reading an account of someone’s normal life, which is fine, but I have my own normal, boring life, and I read books to escape that. I want something with more sustenance.
There was a lot that Dessen could’ve done with the friendship aspect of this book that she left completely neglected. I know I’m a cynic when it comes to romance but I’ve loved several of her books. They just all happen to be the one’s that have more going on than an overly cheesy and all-too-predictable romance between a girl (who has just been through so much trauma that, most often, her mother put her through, and she’s sworn off love in order to protect her heart) and a boy (who has an equally sad story but has somehow found a way to look past all of the shitty parts of life and stay cheery and his smile probably reminds someone of the sun or something). I… do not do well with those kind of stories. So, my favorites of hers are one’s that go beyond the romance. Honestly, with Dessen, you know what you’re getting into. But some of her books do have more depth than that and you just have to sort through them to figure out which one’s those are. But this? Ugh.
When a book lacks in the plot, I try to find solace in two things: the writing, and the characters. Now, personally, I really enjoy the way that Sarah Dessen writes, even in the books I dislike completely. Her works transitions nicely from scene to scene, she creates pretty good dialogue, and her wording never feels too stiff to me (I don’t know how to explain “stiff” writing but just… if you get it, then you get it). I can often enjoy her characters a lot, too, so even if the story isn’t magnificent, I can still have a good time. This Lullaby, on the other hand, did not produce characters that I found even slightly enjoyable.
Remy herself was… well, she was fine. I didn’t love her and I didn’t hate her. Dessen always writes one of two tropes for her female characters: 1) an overly goody girl with a niche for being too gullible and naive which ultimately leads them to being easily influenced by whatever rebel boy they fall in love with, or 2) a not-an-outright bad girl who veers on the side of bad habits more often than not which leads to the softening of her shell when she finds a goofy, lovable boy who is probably lanky and silly. Sound about right? Anyways, Remy was in group 2. She wasn’t really a “bad girl” but she got drunk with her friends often and was very open about the fact that she’d had multiple intimate partners (and thank the universe that the slut-shaming was toned down, though definitely still present). I could personally connect with her well enough but she wasn’t my favorite female character of Dessen’s.
Now, Dexter. Ugh. We all know that Sarah Dessen practically owns the copyright for Manic Pixie Dream Boys™ but come on. Dexter is the worst I’ve ever come across in her books. I’ve seen a lot of readers really appear to like him but he is without a doubt one of my least favorite of all of her characters. He’s incredibly and annoyingly irresponsible and I didn’t find him endearing in the slightest. Call me a hater, it’s fine. I just can’t get on board. Being clumsy is not a personality trait! Being in a band is not a personality trait. He was nice, I guess, but he completely lacked in… everything. For me. Similarly, most of the other character’s, like the friend group, were practically stick figures due to their poor development. Like I mentioned earlier, I would’ve loved if the book had more to do with the friendship, but instead they were there to add to Remy’s story; nothing more, nothing less.
On a more positive note, I will add that I enjoyed the family aspect to this. At first it seemed to me that the issues that Remy had with her mom were going to be a kind of side-note to take up space when nothing else was going on, but the importance of the mother/daughter relationship grew a lot towards the end of the book. Sarah Dessen producing a book with an off dynamic between the main female character and her mother are something that you can pretty much bet your annual income on. I’m serious. Most often I find the daughter to be unbearable and the mother to be overbearing in these situations, so it’s not always a fun part of the story for me. With This Lullaby, however, I thought it added something really important to the way Remy viewed love and relationships (and, once again, thank the universe for that).
So, after all of this negativity and only a sliver of praise, why, you may ask yourself, if she has all these critiques, did she not give it only 1 star? And my answer for you, my friend, is that I have a crutch for Sarah Dessen books. They don’t have to be wonderful; they don’t even have to be good. I’ll probably still somehow enjoy them regardless because even when her story could be better, she has a phenomenal skill of making her books mindnumbingly fun to read. I speed through them, they never bore me, and they most certainly never put me in a reading slump. This book was really not very good. Logistically, it was awful for me. But if I put my critical reading skills to the side, then it was not so bad. What can I say? Dessen is reliable. Like I said earlier, you know what you’re getting into. And you can count on her to deliver it. Every time.