You know that feeling where a book is so good all you want to do is keep reading to find out what happens, but you also never want it to end? That’s how I felt about The Truth About Forever.
This was the first time I’d ever read any Sarah Dessen, and picked this one up after seeing it recommended at Forever Young Adult. I am a sucker for any coming-of-age/romance story (proof is here, here, here and here). TTAF is exactly that, with a down to earth, sympathetic heroine, fully realised supporting characters and totally swoon-worthy boy (or sa-woon, as Kristy would say)
TTAF is narrated by Macy, who is 17 and dealing with some pretty horrible stuff. About 18 months previously, her father died completely unexpectedly, dropping dead at the side of the road, Macy by his side. Since this happened, Macy and her mother have compressed all their sadness somewhere deep inside themselves and have told themselves (and everyone else) that they are fine. Just fine. With Macy’s outspoken older sister married and living away, the two of them build their own little world of quiet, repressed grief and calm, each trying to compensate for their pain by being as perfect as possible. Perfect is Macy’s world now; she gets perfect grades, dresses neatly and has the perfect boyfriend who is obsessed with order and rules, all of which makes Macy feel safe. Life, essentially is boring and monotonous – but easily managed and very well planned with no nasty surprises.
Jason, Macy’s boyfriend, goes away for the summer, leaving her to fill in for him at the library. After a particularly hard day of feeling lonely and rebuffed by her co-workers, Macy reaches out to Jason via email and breaks one of their unspoken rules – she admits to feeling disordered and emotional. Jason promptly suggests they ‘take a break’ and Macy is left even lonelier before. She bumps into a motley crew of caterers at an event thrown by her over-worked mother, and is totally drawn in by Wish Catering and their odd team of staff: Delia, Bert, Monica, Kristy and Wes. Lovely, lovely Wes. But more on him in a minute. Macy, on whim, ends up taking a second job with Wish and suddenly life starts to pick up – both in chaos and in fun – and Macy starts to wonder whether perfect is worth it, and what she might have been missing, feeling afraid and alone all those months.
As mentioned above, I loved this book. It was truthful and moving and funny and I really felt like I knew these people. Dessen managed to make each character, however minor, feel like a real person and their expressions, reactions and choices seemed to ring true throughout. Macy was a great narrator. I really felt and understood her struggles and her need to find way to balance things and control what was happening to her. Each new leap of faith that she takes feels like a victory, as you’re standing there with her, willing her to get what she wants. I thought Dessen’s portrayal of Macy’s relationship with her mother was well crafted and realistic. It can be very hard – regardless of the situation – for teenage girls to talk to honestly to their mothers. In this scenario particularly, when Macy needs her mother more than ever to take care of things for her and help her, but her mother (rightly or wrongly) needs the same thing. Coming to understand that our parents lean on us and need us to help them is a hard one and I thought Macy’s struggle to keep her mother happy because she wasn’t sure how else to communicate with her was very well written.
I wish there was room to write about each supporting character at length, because they were all so great, but then this would reach dissertation-like lengths and no one wants that. I loved the whole Wish crew: Delia’s ongoing chaos somehow being everyone’s safety blanket and her kind motherly attitude towards her nephews and Macy were easily some of the most comforting things I’ve read all year. Bert and Monica both seemed to leap off the page, fully realised. Monica was hilarious to me, despite hardly saying anything, and Bert’s wonderful, dorky oddness that he carries with him like a cloak of gold was wonderfully endearing. In fact the entire Wish crew’s wholehearted enjoyment and embracing of their individuality was very heartening. It was presented so naturally and without comment that it reminded me that just being yourself and not caring what others thought is way more fun than the alternative. Kristy and Caroline were both the exact sort of people Macy needed to help her through. I’ve always been drawn to tough, outspoken female characters as much as I have the shy spoken ones. One I understand and one I’m fascinated by because it’s my opposite. Kristy’s unwavering faith in herself and everything she did was inspiring and her cajoling and herding of Macy definitely kicked the plot into action. Similarly, Caroline (Macy’s sister) needed to be the opposite of Macy and her mum to ensure that things changed. I liked her take charge attitude and warmed to her immediately.
And then there was Wes. Lovely, lovely Wes. It is a rule of thumb in YA fiction (fine, YA romance) that object of our narrator’s affection (in this case a boy) is too good to be true. And, it has to be said, that in many ways, so was Wes. But it was nice to have a romantic figure portrayed as not just handsome and artistic (naturally) but also, quiet and guarded – someone who took their time to get around to things. He, like Macy, needed to process things in his own way. I appreciated his resilience and his refusal to ever relinquish the possibility of something brilliant growing out of imperfection. The sad, but important bond he and Macy share – their grief – allows them to talk to each other in a brand new way. I liked their slow journey towards each other (Just because we all know the destination, doesn’t mean we can’t have fun getting there!) It clearly wasn’t by coincidence that the Wish crew are all in some way ‘damaged’; each moving on from a traumatic life event. Macy needed to be with other people who had been through something to find out that pain doesn’t go on forever.
And in keeping with the title, I liked Dessen’s take on ‘forever’. That it starts now and tomorrow and whenever you want it to and that both nothing and everything are permanent. That forever isn’t a closed concept, but one full of hope and possibility.