Author and fervent tweeter Sarah Dessen usually uses social media to keep in touch with her ravenous fans. But since her latest book was released, she’s been bonding with her readers in person.
“The promotional part is actually really fun, especially because writing is such a solitary thing,” says Dessen. “I mean, other than my Twitter addiction, I’m pretty much by myself when I’m working.”
What Dessen had been working on is her 11th book, “The Moon and More,” a coming-of-age tale about the difficulty of navigating and accepting change while also maintaining one’s roots. She’ll read from the work at Barnes & Noble in Cary on Wednesday, and at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on June 26.
Chapel Hill-based Dessen, whose young adult fiction has consistently been on or atop best-seller lists, is known for writing novels that resonate with a wide audience of teen readers. She is keenly observant and empathetic in her explorations of the exciting yet sometimes tumultuous and isolating processes of growing up.
Her novels tend to focus on the experiences of teens during important nexuses and times of transition, and her latest work is no exception.
Set in a small, fictional North Carolina beach town called Colby, “The Moon and More” follows a girl named Emaline during her last summer before college. Her family owns a real-estate company, leasing out vacation homes to tourists. The book captures the interesting, somewhat surreal sensation of living year-round in a place that, for most people, is a vacation destination.
“I really liked the idea of investigating what it’s like to be permanent in a place that other people think of as temporary,” says Dessen. “How does one change and conceptualize change in a place that stays the same?”
In Colby, where people tend to stay forever or leave for good, Emaline wonders how she can achieve something bigger without abandoning her history and her identity. She has to figure out what it is that she wants for herself amid the noise of external pressures.
This latest work, more so than Dessen’s other novels, takes up education as one if its major themes. Dessen herself blazed a somewhat unorthodox path through college. (She transferred from UNC-Greensboro to UNC-Chapel Hill after taking time off to work and take classes part time.) The novel emphasizes that sometimes you have to take a more circuitous route to end up somewhere that feels right.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure on people, nowadays, to know exactly what they want to do when they’re 18 years old, and sometimes you just don’t,” says Dessen. “I didn’t know exactly where I was going back then. I usually didn’t even know where I’d put my keys.”
Dessen has certainly figured a few things out since then. After selling her first novel, “That Summer,” in 1996, she has published a new book every one or two years since. In fact, before Dessen had released this 11th novel, she had already begun work on her 12th.
“I started writing something new in January because I had nothing else to do for ‘The Moon and More,’ and I tend to get really weird when I have nothing to do,” she says. “I trained my brain that at a certain time of day I should be writing, and if I’m not I have that feeling like I left the iron on.”
As she talks about the her novel and the promotion process, Dessen sounds excited. She seems eager to communicate with her readers and set free the world she has created.
“It’s like keeping this big secret, and then all of a sudden the book comes out and you get to tell everyone about it,” she says.