The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen is a young adult contemporary fiction novel with a splash of romance thrown in for good measure. The novel is about a 17-year old girl named Emma. She lives with her father, who is a dentist, in a place called Lakeview. In the beginning of the novel, Emma is hanging with her good friends at her father’s wedding. It goes into a small summary about how her father had finally decided to remarry after meeting a woman, Tracy, at a local sailing club meeting or other social gathering. Emma and her stepmom get along very well, and Emma likes her a lot; she spends a good portion of the wedding talking with her friends about boys and the summer. We find out that Tracy and Matt plan to honeymoon on a sailing boat in Greece for three weeks and Emma has made plans to stay with her friend, Bridgette’s family. During the wedding and reception, we also find out that after the honeymoon, Emma and family will be moving to a new neighborhood to start their new life.
After the big day, while everyone was preparing to move and for vacation, Emma tells readers the story of her mother, Waverly. According to Emma, her mother was born in a place called North Lake – not far from Lakeview – and had a rebellious aspect to her personality. Emma’s parents met at a club that was near where they both lived which was on the same lake at the time, but different ends. Matthew lived in Lake North – the nicer or more expensive part of the lake communities. Anyway, they ended up getting married and moved away from there. Matt owns his own dentistry office and was working long hours after they got married and after Emma was born leaving Waverly alone, overwhelmed and exhausted. She began to drink and soon became an alcoholic; Emma explains that her mother always struggled with addiction (even before meeting her father), but that being a new mother at home alone with a baby only made things worse. Things didn’t improve as Emma got older, she remembers that her mother would begin the day well but would begin drinking by some point in the late morning or early afternoon. She mentions a few good memories when her mother would tell Emma bedtime stories about her childhood living on the lake. These were some of Emma’s favorite stories to hear her mother tell as she would sit and imagine her mother looking out of her little window upstairs in her room to see the lake and all the tourists who would vacation there in the summer. She also mentions that her mother always called her “Saylor” because her father loves sailing and Waverly didn’t.
As her mother’s alcoholism worsened, we learn that usually her mother would drink so much she wouldn’t be able to clean up the empty bottles afterwards, sometimes Emma’s father would clean up the empty bottles at night after everyone was asleep (or passed out) so Emma wouldn’t see them in the morning and other times (maybe most times), Emma would find her mother asleep and empty bottles sprawled on the floor. Then Emma’s mother breaks her wrist and is prescribed Percocet; eventually, Waverly gets addicted to pain killers too and becomes even more difficult to deal with. She becomes unreliable as she would randomly disappear – described as her leaving, not telling anywhere where she is going, who she is going with (if anyone at all), who she is going to see and/or what she is going to do or how long she would be gone. Sometimes she would be gone for days or weeks at a time leaving Matt and Emma alone worrying about her.
Eventually Matt got tired of it all and separated from Waverly; the last time Emma sees her mom is at her birthday party where Waverly had just finished a rehab program and looked genuinely sober. Emma remembers how nicely she was dressed; during the party, Waverly lavishes Emma with love and attention, kissing her forehead, holding her close and resting her head on Emma’s. When it comes time for Waverly to leave (she moved out when they separated), Emma walks with her out of the building to the street; Waverly gives “Saylor” one big, long hug and told her she loved her. After their final good-byes, Waverly watched Emma walk back inside the building and waited outside on the street until she saw Emma get on the elevator when they waved good-bye to each other again. Then, Waverly gets into the car of someone she may or may not know, goes to the bar with him where they enjoy some drinks, and lastly agrees to go back to his place (or hotel) where they shoot heroin. Unfortunately, Waverly overdosed and left behind many grieving family members – most importantly – her husband and daughter.
Back to the present day, it’s 4 o’clock in the morning on the day Emma’s parents are supposed to leave for their honeymoon and her cell phone begins to ring. Emma looks at her phone to see Bridgette calling so she answers and Bridgette, through tears, tells Emma that her grandfather had a stroke, is in the hospital, and that she and her entire family are heading to Ohio to be with him. Now Emma has to make other arrangements for the next three weeks within hours so Matt and Tracy can still go on their honeymoon. While at breakfast, Emma tells her grandmother, Nana (Matt’s mom), Matt and Tracy about the 4 a.m. phone call explaining that currently she doesn’t have a place to stay for the next three weeks (Nana is going on a cruise and won’t be home either). Her dad immediately starts thinking about different people he or Tracy knows that may be able to house Emma for three weeks but can’t think of anyone who doesn’t already have plans. Matt is ready to cancel or reschedule the honeymoon, when his mom suggests that they check with Waverly’s mother, Mimi, to see if Emma can stay with her. Emma agrees to this and insists her father tries so he can go on his honeymoon. Reluctantly, her father agrees to call Mimi who, without hesitation, said Saylor can stay with her.
Emma is nervous about spending three weeks in the place where her mother grew up because she doesn’t remember anything about it, having only been there once when she was much younger, and her parents were still married. She hasn’t been back since then and doesn’t really know or remember much about her mother’s family. As they’re driving out there, Matt tells Emma about the lake and the two communities around it – North Lake and Lake North; according to multiple characters in the book, North Lake was built first and features slightly older, less modern homes, hotels, bed & breakfasts, motels, etc. However, Lake North was built later so (obviously) the homes are newer, with modern features and amenities. On this side of the lake, there is a large yacht club, hotel and spa resort thingy there that is super fancy apparently. As she and her dad get closer to Mimi’s, things begin to look somewhat familiar to Emma; she sees a sign – “Calvander’s” – and remembers that was her mother’s maiden name. She meets (or re-meets) Mimi, her mother’s mom, and they find out that Waverly’s father died a few years ago and that Mimi remarried. They met the new husband who was kind and respectful. Mimi tells Emma where her room is and how to get there and Matt goes with her to help her get her bags to the room.
While they’re in there, he double checks that she wants to do this and she says she wants to stay. After she and her dad say their good-byes, he heads off to grab his new bride for their honeymoon. Most of the family is very welcoming of Emma’s arrival and most of them refer to her, as her mother did, as Saylor. During her time at Calvander’s, Emma meets many relatives and old friends she doesn’t remember spending time with as a little girl. Emma has many new and different experiences during the three weeks she spends in North Lake. She makes new friends, reconnects with old friends and falls in love with a boy whose well-known nickname is Roo.
She learns a lot about her mom’s life on the lake and finds out that her mom and Roo’s dad were very close friends when Waverly lived there, that Roo’s father died when Roo was very young and that Waverly was with him when it happened. Roo mentioned how hard it was for her mother to return to the lake after that; Emma and Roo were, reportedly – according to Mimi, inseparable as children and that they spent most or all of their time together. Roo is the first to really remember Emma as a kid and have stories of her mother to share with her. Throughout the novel it is clear that Emma and Roo are very fond of each other and would rather spend some time together alone. The remainder of the story follows Saylor as she navigates this new place, new relationships and her new identity as Saylor.
The story is interesting enough to keep me engaged with the story and characters and has some humorous parts as well. There were moments towards the end of the novel that seemed to drag on, in my opinion, and could have been shortened a little. The ending of the novel itself was ok, but I guess I was hoping for or expecting a bit more. I didn’t “fall in love” with this story after finishing it like I did after reading “Once and for All”; I don’t feel I was as invested in the main characters, the plot or the blooming love story between Roo and Emma. I checked this book out from a local library, but have no plans of purchasing my own copy. However, I would recommend the book to any fan of Sarah Dessen, avid readers who simply enjoy a young adult contemporary fiction novel or a small romance story. If you would like a copy of this book for your bookshelf, Barnes and Noble has the hardback for $19.99 (currently $9.99 or 50% for Members!) or Amazon sells it for $9.99.
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