It's a little unusual that Macy never shares any of her thoughts, feelings, or memories with anyone in her life—and yet, she's telling us, a bunch of complete strangers, every last detail of her inner world, in this book. She writes:
[T]he fact that I was angry and scared, that was my secret to keep. They didn't get to have that, too. It was all mine (1.41)
And now it's ours, too.
Yes, she opens up in the end, but we as readers get to peek into her head long before that. For that reason, we continuously feel like Macy is confiding in us, trusting us with her deepest, darkest secrets. Kind of like Macy and Wes's game of Truth—but we even get to see what she doesn't tell him. Cool, huh?
Macy is a lot like you. Yep, you. And your friends. And us.
She's the type of character it's easy to relate to and like. Yes, she's got some major issues that she's dealing with, but it's stuff we can all understand:
The sunlight was slanting through the window, […] and in it I felt especially exposed, as if every little flaw, from my mussed hair to my chipped toenail paint, was especially noticeable. (11.167)
It's like she's our friend, just chatting on the phone about what happened last night.
Just to be clear, of course the whole book isn't dark. But there are definitely places where the tone is more of a somber earthen color than a bubblegum pink—know what we mean? It is a book about a girl dealing with her dad's death, after all.
The darkness is palpable at the beginning:
I already knew this was where they took people to tell them the really bad news: that their wait was over, their person was dead. (1.39)
But it begins to dissipate towards the end, only popping up briefly in conversations with friends about their own pasts or in dealing with Macy's mom. By the very end of the novel, things are much better, and Macy finds a light in the darkness—literally: "I ran with Wes into that bright sun" (22.29).
Okay, gumshoe. Get ready. What clues do we have that this book is young adult literature? Maybe that it's about a teenage girl (a.k.a. a young adult)? Oh, and that it's written to appeal to other young adults? And how about the fact that it follows this girl as she grows up.
If you're looking for a stellar example of just exactly what young adult literature is, The Truth About Forever is it. It's so deeply immersed in the world of teens today and so true-to-life that any teen reading it will be able to relate. (And let's be honest: probably the adults, too.)
If you dig right down to the heart of this book, you'll find that it all revolves around family. Sure, friends and love interests are a big part of the game, but why is Macy living this half-life in the first place? Because of her dad. Who determines the course of the rest of her summer, once she gets in trouble? Her mom. And who spends the whole book drawing her and her mom out of their refusal to face their grief? Her sister. The interplay between the family members is the skeleton on which the whole story is built. Okay, creepy metaphor, but you know what we mean.
Wait a second—coming of age? Doesn't Macy end up less responsible and mature by the end of the book? Well, things aren't always as they seem. Over the course of the novel, Macy's perfect act is wearing thin, and she starts to realize that not everything can be controlled. Allowing herself more flexibility to roll with the punches of life, even if that means quitting a job or missing work to help a friend, is actually a sign of maturity for her.
We're not saying you shouldn't honor your commitments, but life is unpredictable. And dealing with that fact is what helps Macy grow up.
What is the truth about forever, anyway?
The first one to talk about "forever" in The Truth About Forever is actually Kristy. Let's take a look:
"If your forever was ending tomorrow, would this be how you'd want to have spent it?" (7.210)
This really gets Macy thinking, about her life, her future, and about, well, forever. At first, it's ultra negative, just like her outlook: "Never would forever, with all its meanings, be so clear and distinct as in the true, guaranteed end of the world" (13.14). But soon, the thought of how she wants to spend her forever starts influencing her decisions. When she quits the library, it's because "[i]f this was my forever, I didn't want to spend another second of it here" (14.105).
Good call, Macy.
And then, of course, Macy decides to follow her heart, and run after Wes (the one who introduced her to Truth, by the way):
Everyone had a forever, but given a choice, this would be mine. The one that began in this moment, with Wes, in a kiss. (21.90)
In the end, she realizes that the truth about forever is that forever is always happening. It's all around you, and you get to choose how you spend it. And Macy chooses to get past her grief and live her life—with Wes right beside her.
Fast forward all the way to the last paragraph: Macy and Wes are jogging on the beach in the morning sunshine, truly together at last.
But wait a second. Do you remember how Macy's dad died? That's right: jogging. It looks like Macy has finally learned how to mourn her dad—instead of pushing aside all the things he loved (like running), she's embracing them.
We think the scene itself isn't nearly as important as the thoughts passing through Macy's head at the time. She has finally realized that she has the power to choose her "forever," and she has claimed that power, changing her life for the better:
There was only one truth about forever that really mattered, and that was this: it was happening. Right then, as I ran with Wes into that bright sun, and every moment afterwards. Look, there. Now. Now. Now. (22.29)
Changing your forever isn't some future event, far off in the distance—it's something you have to do right now: because forever is now.
Ah, the grand old city of… oh, um. We have no idea. Let's start over.
Ah, the grand old state of… nope. Still no clue.
We never find out where exactly Macy and her family live, so it's probably not super important. What does matter, though, is that the neighborhood they live in, Wildflower Ridge, is her mother's brainchild, her parents' company's massive construction project, and possibly even a factor in her father's stress-related death.
Macy and her mom choose to live in this neighborhood of brand new houses probably because there's no past attached to it. New = no bad memories. In the meantime, they don't want to visit their family's old beach house, because it's all memories.
Caroline to the rescue! Big Sis skillfully brings the old and new together by remodeling the beach house; and eventually, that becomes part of their setting, too, and reflects their coming to terms with the past.
The Truth About Forever is pretty much as true to life as it gets—with Macy as narrator, we get the story mainly through her thoughts and a ton of dialogue. Macy does throw in a few SAT words and literary references now and then—she is smart as a whip, after all—but it's no Aristotelian philosophical treatise, that's for sure.
Doesn't The Truth About Forever just feel alive to you? It's so chock full of dialogue, it's almost like watching a movie:
"I thought the only rule was you had to tell the truth." I made a face at him.
"Okay, so there are two rules." He snorted.
"Next you'll tell me there are service charges, too."
"What is your problem?" I asked. (9.233-236)
Can't you just picture Abigail Breslin and Logan Lerman bantering back and forth like that? This definitely isn't one of those books with long descriptions or boring sections that you skip (yeah, we do it, too sometimes). Even Macy's thoughts are written in a conversational way (e.g., "He was so freaking stubborn, or so I was noticing" (9.239]). It sounds like she's just chatting with us, right?
When it comes down to it, Sarah Dessen is a master at capturing the real voice of real teens. Of course, not everyone speaks the same way or does the same things, but we bet everyone who reads The Truth About Forever will recognize someone they know in the characters and their dialogue. Take a look at this example:
"Rachel, you're so freaking stupid." Rachel, hardly bothered, plopped herself down between me and Bert.
"God," she said, tipping her head back and laughing, "remember how much fun we used to have at meets? And you, shit, you were fast. Weren't you?" (7.100-101)
Sound familiar? Probably because you've heard someone talk like that before—might have even been you (or us, for that matter). There's no sugar-coating here, and because of that, we trust our narrator all the more to tell it like it is.
You know how it's the little things that make all the difference? Like, in a cartoon, if the characters never blink, you can just tell that something's off, even if you can't quite put your finger on what? It's like that in a book, too: if the little details aren't there, it just doesn't feel quite as real.
Well, no problem with that here—we've got details coming out the wazoo. Even two-second appearances by minor characters get a touch of vivid reality. Check it out:
She had on a big clunky wooden bracelet that kept sliding up and down her arm with every gesture. (19.53)
With that type of loving attention to detail, you feel like you're right there in the action. It's like the HD version of literature.
Can a moose head really mean that much?
It does to Macy and Caroline, who love every detail of their dad's old beach house—even that weird moose head over the fireplace. The house is so full of their dad's personality: it was his bachelor pad before he was married, his fishing place afterwards, and their family vacation place all together:
[T]he beach shack was my dad. I knew if he was haunting any place, it would be there. (3.85)
But because it holds so many memories, Macy and her mom have avoided the beach house since he died, not wanting to go through the pain of missing him again.
When Caroline decides to help them move on by renovating the house and vacationing there, it's definitely an uphill battle. Deborah, for one, has totally buried herself in the business of building new houses, ones without memories or pasts; and she majorly fights against the idea of preserving the beach house for its history. And her refusal to vacation there seems to represent her refusal to deal with the pain.
Macy's emotions are also mirrored in the beach house—namely, in what shape it's in. Here's what we mean. At first, the house is totally falling apart: "It's sitting there, rotting" (6.86). But as Caroline works on it—and on her family—its condition slowly improves. And Macy's mindset improves right alongside it.
So when the house is finally finished, Macy's ready to face the past. Just one thing: her mom still isn't. Not until her breakdown at the party does she finally slow down enough to visit: "In the beginning, it had been hard to walk through the door. […] But it was easier now." (22.15) And when the Queens finally take that vacation, they're on their way to some major healing.
Macy's two summer jobs are kind of in a turf war with each other. No snapping or swordfights, but they are doing some major battling in Macy's world.
Her library job, which she's only taking over temporarily for Jason, represents her old life—the Jason era:
I was realizing the info desk was a lot like my life had been before Wish and Kristy and Wes. Something to be endured, never enjoyed. (10.154)
The more she immerses herself in her catering job, though—her new life, in which she opens up to her new friends and is able to deal with her grief—the fewer reasons she can see to stay at the library. Especially when Kristy and Wes visit her there, she is able to see it through their eyes.
When she finally does quit, it's like she's leaving that old life behind:
And with Wes right there, holding the door open for me as I walked out into the light. (14.113)
She still has a little way to go, but deciding to leave, with Wes by her side, is a major step towards healing.
Macy's dad and Wes have something pretty important in common: they both love Macy for who she is. But they have another link, too: Wes's heart-in-hand sculptures.
These artsy pants items are symbolic all on their own—they're art, after all. But we're thinking there's something more to it. Wes started making those sculptures as a way to cope with his mom's death; and then Macy's dad's last gift to her is one of them? Connectionville, anyone?
Sure, Macy's dad had no way of knowing he would die before he had the chance to give her the gift. But when Macy finally opens it, it's like a sign from beyond, telling her to embrace Wes—and to embrace life again:
I'd wanted a sign, and all this time it had been so close by, waiting for me to be ready to find it. (21.123)
If you want to take it one step further, think about who found the gift and where: Caroline at the beach house (with the candlestick!). Caroline is the one family member trying to pull them all through to the other side, and she's also the one who sees so much meaning in all of Wes's work. And between her vision and their dad's love, Macy and her mom make it through okay.
This is Macy's story through and through. And we're not complaining—after all, we kind of like the girl.
Seeing the story through her eyes allows us to connect with our leading lady in a way we couldn't if we were looking at things from the outside. Let's take a quick look at a quote to show you what we mean:
It took a lot of work to be perfect. (1.8)
If that came from a third-person narrator, we'd probably just think "yep, that's true," and move on. But since it comes from our protagonist, we just want to reach out and give her a hug right from the start. We want to tell her, "it's okay to mess up." Because, by the way, it totally is.
But a first-person narrator isn't all roses. After all, Macy is also a little emotionally drained at the moment. Add that to the fact that she's telling a story about her own stinkin' life, and you get a narrator who doesn't quite see things objectively all the time. Like, come on, we all knew Jason was a jerk long before she did, and we just have to wait for her to come around and join the masses.
Macy Queen is just trying to keep it together. In the exposition, we learn about how her dad's death has changed her, and how she's trying to deal.
When her uptight boyfriend emails her that he wants a break from their relationship, Macy is finally propelled into taking a risk—getting a job with Wish Catering. Which sets all the good stuff into motion…
While dealing with chaos every day has been helping Macy learn to cope better, it has pretty much the exact opposite effect on her mom. Deborah's total breakdown at the grand opening gala forces her to lean on someone else for a change, and opens her eyes to her daughters' needs, too. And with those eyes finally opened, the stage is set for…
Finally. Macy dumps Jason and kisses Wes, all in the space of four pages. Tie up those romantic loose ends, baby.
Curtain rises on a peaceful morning at the beach house, with happy family members lounging around and Wes and Macy going for a jog on the beach. End scene.