It wouldn’t be summer without at least one Sarah Dessen book. There’s something about the heat, the wave of positivity and the potential for change that comes with the summer season that has me grabbing for her feel good coming of age stories and hugging them close to my chest. For me, Dessen remains the queen of contemporary YA novels. She has the perfect balance of cheese, honesty, romance and realism that always gives me a book hangover. This woman is a wizard with words! Along for the Ride, like all her other novels, was a brilliant read with some wonderful characters.
Auden has always felt like the odd one out.
Since her parents’ divorce she’s shied away, studying lots and staying out of the party scene.
But now Auden’s realized there must be something more and, just like that, she changes everything. Moving to her dad’s house opens up a whole new world of beach parties, food fights – and simply having fun.
As she gets to know herself – and a secretive boy with dark, brooding eyes – can Auden begin to let go and finally feel like she truly belongs?
Auden has always been the sensible one, her parents divorce and their views on academia have made her mature before her time. With months of summer spanning out before her, Auden settles into a routine of prepping for college during the day and hanging out in her favourite coffee place by night, nursing her insomnia. But when Auden receives a photo frame from her travel happy brother with the tag line ‘it was the best of times’ and realises she doesn’t have anything to go in it, she makes a rash decision to move to her dads house by the beach for the summer. When Auden gets there it is not what she expects; her dad spends most of his time locked in his office and his new wife, Heidi who is usually so chirpy, is bedraggled and tired from looking after their newborn baby. Needing space, Auden begins working part time at Heidi’s seafront shop where she meets some girls who make her question whether she has to be so sensible all the time. She also encounters a fellow insomniac, who may have even more problems than she does.
As always, Dessen’s writing impressed me. She sucked me into her world within the first couple of paragraphs. She constructs fantastic characters that feel real; each of them has such universal problems, worries and personal hang-ups that it’s easy to find a bit of yourself in them or identify with their plight. Dessen pulls and tugs at your heartstrings making you laugh one minute and cry another, I honestly don’t know how this author makes me feel so happy and sad all at once! Her dialogue is spot on and wonderfully flirtatious, and I regularly found myself grinning like an idiot. At first glance, this novel may not look anything special. To the untrained eye it just seems like your run of the mill contemporary romance with a girly cover and an uninspiring blurb. But there is nothing ‘just’ about a Sarah Dessen book, and it’s something you have to experience to understand. There’s this magic to her stories that restores your faith in people and makes you believe you have the power to change your life for the better if you’re brave enough to try. It’s empowering; there’s definitely an element of wish fulfillment.
The plot of Along for the Ride was fast paced and fun. Every time I picked it up it was such a struggle to put it back down again, I found my hand being drawn to it like a magnet and would grab for it whenever I had a spare five minutes. The novel continued to pick up speed as it went along and culminated in a super sweet and satisfying ending that nearly split my face in two. Sarah Dessen is one of those authors that reminds you why the clichés exist, because when done in enough depth, they are so damn satisfying. She’s got the confused-with-her-life girl meets confused-with-his-life-boy and falls in love routine down to an art, but pads it out with other interesting elements, in this case, parental issues, grief and the representation of females. I liked that Auden discovering herself and sorting out her family issues was a bigger plot point in the story than the romance, that’s an important balance for me.
As the novel progresses, Auden spends a lot of time trying to make up for all the things she missed out on during her childhood and early teens. Eli jokes about it being a quest. It was quite bucket list-esk but because it was handled so well and was only one aspect of the story, it didn’t feel too overdone.
I love how Dessen’s characters go through transformations, even the minor ones. They learn new things about themselves including how to let go and how to move on. They change and grow and develop, exactly how a character should, as we do in real life. Take Auden for instance our lead protagonist. She’s lived a secluded life, burying herself in textbooks and shunning childish things to please her academic parents. Her mother is a fierce feminist and scholar who doesn’t really know how to listen and her father is a self-centred writer with a big ego. Auden feels like she skipped her childhood and teen years and went straight to her twenties. She doesn’t know how to have fun, and is even a little scared of it. After only one chapter I wanted to reach into the novel and give her a hug, she seemed so lonely. It was fun to watch her open up and discover that it was possible to be both studious and have fun.
Eli, the love interest was also a great character, while he was there mainly to be swoon worthy (And totally succeeded at this!) he had depth as well and complimented many of Auden’s personality traits. I don’t want to give too much away about Eli however, as I feel like part of the fun in this novel is working him out!
Maggie works perfectly in the best friend role, and the reader soon discovers there is more to her than meets the eye. I loved how she noted that the world tended to see females as either girly girls OR tomboys, as pretty OR smart and questioned why she couldn’t be both.
Another thing I like about Dessen’s novels is she writes realistic parents. In most YA, parents are inconveniences written out of the plot in the first third of the book or are absent completely, but Dessen always gives us insight into their lives as well. Often they have lessons to learn, developing alongside the main protagonists. I think that’s important because parents are a huge part of teen life and they should be included, and it’s important to note that they’re not infallible!
So why only four stars you ask? There’s no concrete reason. There weren’t any obvious flaws but the novel didn’t quite have that extra spectacular something (unlike Just Listen) to make me stretch to a five star. You guys know I’m stingy with those. 😉
Along for the Ride was the perfect summer read, fun, emotional, romantic, and it helped that 95% of it was set at the beach! I would recommend it primarily to females 11+ who love heartfelt, coming of age stories that are comforting but also have depth. And if you haven’t read a Sarah Dessen book yet, why the heck not? Get your bookish butt in gear, you’re missing out! 🙂
Writing Style: 5/5
Character Development: 5/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes!