Review: Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

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AlongForRide_FINAL.indd Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
Hardback, First U.S. Edition
Release Date: June 11, 2009 from Viking
Pages: 383
Best Enjoyed by: Females, Ages 14 and Up
Rating: B
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Auden is your typical high flier: she’s got amazing grades that have landed her in an equally amazing and prestigious college, a high maturity level, is entirely too serious, and has a too-smart-to-care attitude that has alienated her from all her high school peers. Now high school is over and the summer stretches out before her, long and carefree for most. But with a feminist-intellect of a mother who has a cluster of grad students eager to impress, Auden is soon in need of an escape in the form of a quaint beach town where her father, her stepmother Heidi, and their newborn, Thisbe, live.

But once she arrives, the summer Auden planned to use to get ahead on college reading seems to disappear. There’s her father, who is too busy writing his novel to notice his wife’s impending breakdown and to take care of his cranky baby. Then there’s the job she literally cannot say no to, with three giggly girls at Heidi’s boutique who are the exact type Auden typically avoids, and yet she finds herself befriending them nonetheless.

But it’s the sleepless nights that change her the most. Nights with Eli, a brooding loner with a tragic past. He takes her on a “quest”, as he would call it, so Auden will experience the life she denied herself and Eli will be able to move on from the past. Slowly their relationship starts to develop, while another unravels, and Auden will need to confront herself, her family, and what she truly wants.

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(I’m going to apologize ahead of time for all those who have yet to read any Sarah Dessen books, since I will be referring to quite a few in this review. Also, I have a question for those who have read Sarah’s other books: is Jason a cross over character in Along for the Ride from The Truth About Forever? I think so, but didn’t get that until the very end.)

When I heard about the book, I was both excited and wary. Excited because Sarah Dessen has written some amazing books and is a fabulous writer. But wary because Lock and Key was somewhat of a disappoint to me, and I wasn’t sure if Along for the Ride would be the same.

It’s safe to say it wasn’t though.

Sarah Dessen is a phenomenal writer and she knows what she’s doing. Her characters are all well developed and realistic, the voicing perfect. The dialogues replicated a typical teen conversation really well, varying on vocabulary from each character. The one thing I disliked was the pacing in the beginning, which seemed to jump around a lot until Auden actually got to her father’s, but then it was good for the rest of the book.

The family issues in Along for the Ride were one of the best in any of Sarah Dessen’s books so far. You have a mother who doesn’t believe people can change and is somewhat controlling Auden. She is also completely unabashed about showing her dislike for her ex-husband and his new wife and the person Auden becomes by the end of the book. Then there’s the father who is too selfish to help with the new baby and too blind to see the Auden’s observations are true about Heidi needing rest. I think family played a larger role than the romance, which was a change since normally they’re about even in other Sarah Dessen books.

I also love the world used in all Dessen novels. It’s neat to see repeating characters (though there weren’t as many as previous books)and such a realistic landscape. The setting really came alive because of the details in the writing. I can totally visualize the bike park and Laundromat/coffee shop (I thought that was genius).

As I said before, Sarah’s characters are always well developed, but to be honest, I am so-so with Eli. He is a many layered, realistic character, yes, but as for the matter of if I liked him, I’m not so sure. I definitely loved the idea of him, but he didn’t always live up to it. I thought his changes after meeting Auden would be more prominent, but it was only at the very end that you really saw it. I also wished there were more scenes with him and Auden and more dialogue with him. But it was amazing how he was able to change Auden and grow himself.

Speaking of Auden, I think it’s safe to say that she was one of my favorite Dessen leads, because it was really her smartness that was her fault, something I think many can relate to, including me. And when she finally got off of her high-horse and learned to really see people, like Heidi or the girls who worked at Heidi’s store, she was able to actually become friends with them. Auden really grew and changed throughout the novel, maturing in a different way than at the beginning of the book as she came into adulthood.

My biggest problem with Along for the Ride really didn't have much to do with the actual book, but with the plotline that is so similar to all of Sarah Dessen’s books. It’s just too predictable now: Girl has family issue; Girl meets Boy and they gradually grow closer; Girl and Boy have fight or something gets in their way; Girl fixes issues with family; Girl and Boy make up and begin dating. The end. Sure, she adds different twists every time to her characters, but the plot is a constant. The only books that really strayed away from this were Sarah’s first books and Dreamland. I understand that Sarah likes writing contemporary fiction, I really do, I just wish she could mix it up a little. Maybe write from a guy’s perspective or have a gay main character. Sarah is a fantastic writer, but I think if she would “expand her horizons” she’d be even better.

Despite the things I disliked, Along for the Ride is highly enjoyable, and more so if you don’t compare it to any other Sarah Dessen books. Sarah’s world is completely realistic and believable, as are her characters―whether I like them or not aside.

In short, returning readers will either be happy or disappointed by the familiar territory of Along for the Ride. Newer readers will love the writing and voicing, though I would suggest This Lullaby or Just Listen as your first Dessen novel, as I think those were the highlights of her career so far (but I think Along is a close third). Along for the Ride is well written with a nice blend of family and romance. An excellent summer read.

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1 comments:

writemeg said...

Like you, I was a little disappointed by Lock & Key -- it just didn't have the emotional impact of a book like Just Listen, for example -- and wasn't sure what to expect from Along For The Ride. I thought it was great! I really loved the family dynamics and, though I'm nothing like Auden, could still relate to her. And I thought the Laundromat/coffee shop was awesome, too. Great review!

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