5 Books that Inspired YA Author Sarah Dessen

YA Author Sarah DessenYA Author Sarah DessenBy Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media reviewer

I first heard of the prolific young adult novelist Sarah Dessen four years ago from my then 11-year-old niece, who informed me that Dessen was one of her favorite authors. Since then, I've heard her name in hundreds of conversations about books, and not just from tween and teen girls, but also from adults who love to read young adult fiction.

Dessen, a No.1 New York Times best-selling author, has published 12 books, including Just Listen -- all of them realistic coming-of-age tales that capture the myriad issues of adolescence with humor and romance. Common Sense Media's four-star review of Dessen's latest book, The Moon and More, praises it for portraying "authentic teen characters finding their way through messy circumstances."

The daughter of two professors (her mom taught classics, her father Shakespeare) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (also her alma mater), Dessen knows her literature. Her book picks are a fantastic mix of classic and contemporary favorites. -- Sandie Angulo Chen

Sarah Dessen's Most Treasured Books

I didn't always think I could be a writer, or even that I wanted to try it as a career. But from an early age, one thing I knew was that I loved to write and read. I have distinct memories of books that affected me so much, changing the way I saw the world and myself. There's just something about a good book: It sticks with you, even becomes part of who you are. The fact that someone might feel that way about one of mine is the greatest thing about my job. Here are five I will never forget.

1. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. I read this when I was in sixth grade or so. There's a twist ending (which I won't give away here), and I remember it being the first time a book literally blew my mind. I went to find my mom, who had recommended it, and said, "OH MY GOD!" and she was like, "I KNOW!" I'd never had a book take me by surprise like that. It made me realize how much else was probably out there for me to find that would do the same.

2. Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, by Fannie Flagg. My mom gave me this book as well, back when it still had the original title, Coming Attractions. I was in college and just starting writing classes, where it seemed like everyone was writing really dark and serious stuff, so I should, too. When I read this novel, about a Southern girl growing up with a crazy family, who goes on to be a beauty queen, something just clicked. Maybe I didn't have to write what everyone else did. Maybe you could be sort of dark, but also funny and everything else in between. It was a great thing to finally understand.

3. Fair and Tender Ladies, by Lee Smith. I grew up in a town that was thick with writers, which is a great thing. Novelists weren't just dead people on the backs of books: They were real and right there in the supermarket in the produce section. I was actually friends with Lee's son in high school, and went on to work for her as an assistant after college. At that point I'd only read her short stories, but one weekend I picked up this book and totally devoured it. When I saw her the following Monday, I couldn't even talk to her I was so in awe. How amazing that someone I actually knew was capable of something so incredible. It still blows my mind.

4. A Summer to Die, by Lois Lowry. I did not actually set out to be an author of YA fiction, but more kind of fell into it backwards. That said, I read a TON of stuff for teens when I was growing up, and this book has just stuck with me. It's a story about two sisters and their issues, and what happens when one of them gets very sick. There are scenes in this book I remember better than what I read yesterday: It's that solid in my memory. Later, when I did end up in YA, I kept thinking back to that book and how much it had stayed with me. There's a lot of power in being one of the first books someone connects to. It's such an honor.

5. Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd. I know, this is sort of an odd choice. But I've written so much here about books having an impact, and this one, honestly, feels like part of my soul. I loved it as a kid, then forgot about it until my own daughter was born. It was one of the first books I ever read to her, and just flipping through the pages, so much came back to me from my own childhood. The last two pages, where the room is dark and the stars are out and all is well? I want to just climb into it and live there. Forever. There is no safer room or place. And to have it on the shelf, always in reach? That's the greatest gift ever.

Photo credit: KPO

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