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The Dinner List

Review

The Dinner List

Rebecca Serle --- the author of several young adult books, including the smash hit FAMOUS IN LOVE --- makes her adult debut with THE DINNER LIST, a wistful, romantic and heartbreaking story based on the popular question “If you could have dinner with any five people, living or dead, who would they be?”

Every year, Sabrina and her best friend, Jessica, celebrate their birthdays with a dinner out. This year, Sabrina is shocked when she enters a restaurant on her 30th birthday to see not only Jessica, but also her estranged father, Robert; her former teacher, Professor Conrad; her ex-boyfriend, Tobias; and an annoyed Audrey Hepburn, all seated at one table. Sabrina quickly realizes that she is about to answer that famous question over a night of great food, abundant wine and, of course, lots of difficult conversations. As Sabrina realizes why the group has come together, she learns to accept what she needs to enter her 30s with closure, contentment and hope.

"This story is full of pain, but it is the most delicious kind --- the kind that will make you feel as though you, too, have lost something, and will make you all the more grateful for the good things around you."

In alternating chapters, the reader is both invited to take a seat at the table and given a chronology of Sabrina’s decade-long relationship with Tobias and what led to their eventual dissolution. As Sabrina starts to come to terms with her messiest relationships (after all, her estranged father and best friend are also at the table), the reader is treated to scintillating conversations at the dinner table that serve to move the plot along while dissecting the events of Sabrina’s past. Serle does a remarkable job of balancing both plotlines, never once giving away too much or slowing down the pace. The alternating chapters work in tandem, with one informing the next through Serle’s deft and careful plotting.

The story of Sabrina and Tobias is heart-wrenching in all of the best ways. Sabrina first met Tobias when she was only a junior in college in California, though they never even learned one another’s names. Four years later, all the way across the country, the two crossed paths yet again in a stopped subway car. Their first date followed soon after, and they were inseparable --- until they weren’t. Bolstered by fate, compromise and an all-encompassing love, the relationship between Sabrina and Tobias seemed to be written in the stars, but it was not without its tensions. Tobias, for all of his “book boyfriend” qualities, has his faults: he can be indecisive, a bit lazy and occasionally greedy. Sabrina, meanwhile, is accommodating beyond her means and often blind in her love for him.

Still, they are the true loves of one another’s lives, and you will root for them as much as you will sigh, groan and weep about their bad decisions. Serle crafts their love story so beautifully and realistically that it seems impossible that they could not still be together. So what happened? You will be flipping pages well past your bedtime to find out.

The beauty of Sabrina’s story is that, while she, Tobias, Jessica and even her estranged father are all flawed, none of them are purely good or bad. They all have made tragic mistakes and accepted unacceptable compromises, but who among us has not? Where Serle’s character development truly shines is in the relationship between Sabrina and Jessica. When the two first became best friends, they were gorgeous and broke young twenty-somethings, but now Jessica is married with a baby and Sabrina is floundering. Their friendship has fizzled out, as most adult friendships do, but the interesting thing is that neither one has done anything wrong. Serle writes the most realistic description of adult friendships --- especially female ones --- that I have ever read, and Sabrina and Jessica will make you laugh, cry and cringe.

THE DINNER LIST is a sentimental story, one in which we see Sabrina grow and accept that she must forgive both others and herself if she is to enter her 30s with any potential for closure or growth. If the premise sounds impossible, you’re simply not using your imagination. Where a lesser author might waste precious time explaining the magic of the situation, Serle launches into the dinner feet first, appetizers warmed and wine pouring. Over the course of a few hours, she explores love, grief, addiction, friendship, death, marriage and so much more --- all without weighing down her highly imaginative premise. This story is full of pain, but it is the most delicious kind --- the kind that will make you feel as though you, too, have lost something, and will make you all the more grateful for the good things around you.

Serle is new to millennial writing, but I hope that she continues to explore this time in every young person’s life in many more books, for her talent is limitless and her voice profound.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 14, 2018

The Dinner List
by Rebecca Serle

  • Publication Date: September 11, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250295181
  • ISBN-13: 9781250295187