This YA book by Dessen has at its center, Remy, just graduated from high school, who doesn't believe in romantic love. Her own life experience tells her that it doesn't exist. Her mother is about to embark on marriage number five. Her musician father left before she was ever born, wrote her a now famous song when she was born (complete with lyrics exhorting her to not count on him), but never laid eyes on her. She's always skinnied out of any relationship that seemed like it might be getting too deep and the summer before she leaves for college should shape up to be just another in the same superficial dating scene. Then she meets Dexter, who crawls over all her barriers and makes her break all her rules. First, he's a musician and she's always had a no musicians rule because of her father. Next, she doesn't dump him for one of the myriad small reasons that she's tired of boys before. And finally, he's gotten under her skin in a way that no other boy ever has and he is persistent, not allowing her to pull back and retreat when she gets scared. So although Remy knows how a relationship goes, even to being able to predict how long it will last from first infatuation to last goodbye, nothing about Dexter is by the book for her.
Dessen has drawn very believable young adult characters, tapping into their belief that they know how the world will always work and in Remy's case, into the sad cynicism she uses as a shield so she won't ever be hurt. Although the adult characters are very secondary, Dessen skillfully uses them to help Remy grow and mature and see the world in a new way. There was only one instance in Remy's interactions with her mother that seemed a bit preachy and obvious, otherwise they were understated and subtle. While this was very obviously a teen romance, it was more than that. It was about the existence of love and the ways in which we close ourselves off from or conversely, open ourselves up to, that experience. It's not about first love or lasting love but just the willingness to accept love, with all its attendant hurts and healings, whether it lasts forever or just a short time. Readers of young adult literature will certainly appreciate this one as it is a nice representation of the genre. Teens will enjoy it too, whether they think love is ephemeral or that they have already met the love of their lives.