We have moved several times, sometimes 1000 miles or more away, three times to places where we didn't know a soul initially. At times I had the desire, like Mclean, to reinvent myself. It was refreshing to go somewhere that my faults weren't known and I could be a different person but, like Mclean, I discovered that you can't really run away from your past. "Your past is always your past. Even if you forget it, it remembers you."
Mclean Sweet (aka-Lizbet, Eliza, Beth, and Liz) lives with her father who is a restaurant consultant. His job requires frequent moves which is just fine with Mclean. In Mclean's small college town, everyone knew when her mother left her dad for the popular college basketball coach, and knew that she was expecting twins because of the affair. Mclean felt a need to leave her past behind and become a new person. She likes reinventing herself and becoming a different person in every new place.
This time, however, she lost control of things. She wanted to be called Liz but instead was called by her first name, Mclean. Her new friends chose her instead of the other way around. She wasn't given the chance to invent her own persona. Sarah Dessen explains where she got the idea for the book here.
One new friend is especially important, her next-door-neighbor Dave. He isn't like the boys she had known before, wasn't really her "type" but he is there for her even when he finds out her "warts". I thought that the scenes with Dave represented the novel's theme best. In one scene, Dave brings Mclean some soup. He goes to her cupboard to get some thyme and finds that the cupboards are nearly bare. "He'd opened the door, exposing the empty space behind it. He paused, then reached for the next one. Also empty. As was the one adjacent."
Mclean is embarrassed that he has seen inside her cupboards: "I really wanted to get up and shut the open cabinets, but for some reason I felt like it would be admitting something." Admitting what? Possibly that she isn't really the person she seems to be. She explains the empty cupboards, "When you move a lot, you don't have a lot of entanglements. There's not really time to get all caught up in things. It's simpler." Dave counters: "But if you never really make friends, you probably don't have anyone to be your two a.m." He explains that your two a.m. is someone you can call on anytime, who will be there for you no matter what, warts and all.
Later he tells her about his babysitter who had a huge wart on her wrist. She had told him that, "If we loved her, we loved it, too. It was part of the package." Mclean still isn't sure about letting people see the real Mclean, or about forgiving her mother. "It's easier said than done. Accepting all the good and bad about someone. It's a great thing to aspire to. The hard part is actually doing it." "I think that's why I like moving around so much. Nobody gets to know me well enough to see any of the bad stuff."
She eventually learns that her made-up, false personas didn't make for good relationships:
"I thought of all the times I'd found myself with boys over the last two years, and how none of them
came anywhere close to being like this. Because I wasn't. I was Beth or Eliza or Lizbet, a mirage, like a piece of stage scenery that looked real from the front with nothing behind it. ....All those clean, fresh starts had made me forget what it was like, until now, to be messy and honest and out of control. To be real."
Mclean discovers that loving someone means loving all of them even when they do things that hurt you. She also learns to love herself, all of herself including her past, and that to do that she needs to be her real self, that others will still love her even when they know the truth about her.
I hadn't read any of Sarah Dessen's books before this one. I just might have to read a few more!
Other quotations I liked:
Outside, the ocean was crashing, waves hitting sand, then pulling back to sea. I thought of everything being washed away, again and again. We make such messes in theis life, both accidentally and on purpose. but wiping the surface clean doesn't really make anything any neater. It just masks what is below. It's only when you really dig down deep, go underground, that you can see who you really are.
Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.
Was it clean? Yes. There were several mild expletives but for the most part it was quite clean.
*Book courtesy of the public library. Check it out!