The Rest of the Story

  • By Sarah Dessen
  • Balzer + Bray
  • 448 pp.
  • Reviewed by Yung Fang Smith
  • July 30, 2019

A teen haunted by her mother’s death spends the summer digging into a hidden past.

The Rest of the Story

“As I hit the dock’s end and jumped, I wanted to see it, that change from passenger to driver, Emma to Saylor, watching to doing. So, when I hit the cold lake and went under, I kept my eyes open.”

Emma Saylor Paine lost her mom to drug addiction at a young age and doesn’t remember a lot about her. Her dad did his best to give her a stable home. When Emma’s plans to stay with her friend for the summer fall through, she finds herself bunking with her mother’s side of the family in the hotel they run on North Lake, a favorite “blue-collar vacation spot.”

Across from them is Lake North, where “the rich folks came and bought houses and joined the country club.” As she interacts with people from both communities, Emma discovers the sharp divide between the two.

She finds herself making comparisons of these places from her parents’ stories of how they met, stories about North Lake, where her mom grew up, and stories about her dad’s first summer working at the “Club” in Lake North.

The more time Emma spends with her cousins and her new friends in North Lake, the more she begins to change, and the more she learns about her mother’s past. They call her Saylor, the nickname given to her by her mom. She also becomes reunited with Roo, the boy she knew from childhood. He holds many answers about her family.

When Emma’s time at North Lake comes to an end, her cousins encourage her to stay and find out more about her mom’s history. However, Emma isn’t sure her father will allow it:

“My dad had always been selective about my mom’s legacy, what we remembered and what we didn’t. I truly believed he thought he was doing me a favor by keeping the bad stuff out.”

When her dad arrives and takes her to the Tides, the “ritzy resort” in Lake North, she finds herself pulled in different directions. Will she go back to being Emma, or will she stay Saylor? “So that’s what it comes down to. Choices. Good and bad, right and wrong, yes and no. Like being behind the wheel, there are some that are instinctive, others you have to think about.”

The Rest of the Story is author Sarah Dessen’s 14th YA novel, and fans old and new will enjoy its sympathetic characters, witty dialogue, and atmosphere. Unique to this novel, compared to Dessen’s others, is that the main character deals with anxiety. The author succeeds in portraying these feelings through Emma without distracting from the themes of the story. Emma is honest and sincere, with a delightful sense of humor. She quickly invests us in her struggles and successes in her new surroundings.

Emma recognizes her anxiety and embraces her feelings, such as when she asks her dad about staying with her mom’s family:

“The panic, now hitting medium high, said yes. But I had learned, over time and with various therapists we’d consulted, that it did not get to speak for me. I could do this. And I would, for my dad and Tracy first and foremost, but also, in some small way, for my mom. I worried so much about forgetting her as the years passed. Maybe spending a month in the place she came from would help me remember.”

The Rest of the Story is ultimately about family. The characters are thoughtful, enjoyable, and relatable. And Emma, given her desire to build relationships, determination to discover her parents’ past, and willingness to embrace change, will connect with readers.

Yung Fang Smith is a writer and educator. She writes scripts for graphic novels and collaborates with illustrators. She is Asian American and is passionate about different languages.

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