Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen Review 4/5

Overall Impression: Grin inducing material you won’t be able to put down!Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

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
Originality: 3/5
Entertainment: 4/5
Character Development: 5/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes!

Overall: 4/5

Image Sources:
Book Cover.

22 thoughts on “Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen Review 4/5

  1. Every once in a while it’s nice to settle down with good old fashioned contemporary love story, no? Dessen is perfect for this – she never fails to deliver an eloquently written love story with interesting personal and emotional elements. 🙂

    • I completely agree with you! Dessen definitely fills my occasional need for a heartfelt, complex romance/self-discovery fix. Her stories are quite formulaic, but as long as you space them out they all stand in their own right. She definitely has that extra special something I need in my love stories.

      Thanks for reading, Rachel. 🙂

    • Thank you, Jenny. 🙂 Sarah Dessen is one of those wonderfully consistent writers so you always know you’re in for a good read when you pick up one of her books. Just Listen is my favourite so far too, but I would definitely recommend checking out some of her other stories!

  2. You really get the best book covers over there!!! I think I recall during your 30 Day Book Challenge a post of Sarah Dessen books… but maybe they weren’t Sarah Dessen books… but they looked like this sorta… anyway very nice review! 😀

    • Hahaa! Glad you approve of our UK editions, I often find myself lusting after unattainable US covers as well *cough* Divergent *cough*. Yes! I did mention Sarah Dessen in my 30 day book challenge, well remembered. 🙂 The book I focused on had a cover in the same style as this one but using green and blue objects in the shape of a heart instead.
      Shucks, thank you!

  3. I agree with so many things in this review, but I can probably summarize my thoughts by showing support of Dessen as the queen of contemporary YA. Her writing flows so well and includes so much detail that we as readers can forgive her cliches with ease. I hope she writes another book soon because this summer has felt odd without a Dessen read, and I’m glad you got to this one even though it was published a little while ago.

    • Thanks Thomas, I’m glad we’re on the same wavelength when it come to the lovely Sarah Dessen. I think with Dessen as odd as it may sound, the cliches actually improve her work because she handles them so well, and after all, a lot of the cliche’s are there for a reason. I hope she writes another book soon as well! Luckily, I’ve still got lots of her books I haven’t read yet. 🙂

  4. I don’t know why I haven’t ventured near Sarah Dessen’s books yet. I see them all over the place but for a reason that completely eludes me, I have always stayed away. Would you recommend I start with this one if I want to get a feel for her writing? It sounds interesting enough!

    • I think it’s always intimidating reading a book by an author who is generally loved by most, hype can be off-putting and anxiety inducing for a reader! I also don’t think her book covers or blurbs do her justice, they’re very….superficial which doesn’t really represent her well as an author in my opinion. If you like coming of age romance though I would definitely give her a go! 🙂

      Along for the Ride would be a good place to start, but her books Just Listen and The Truth About Forever are my favourites, so I would probably recommend them over this one! To be honest, she’s a pretty consistent author so you could probably just pick up whichever one appeals to you most. 🙂

  5. Sarah Dessen is definitely my guilty pleasure! My favorites are “The Truth About Forever” and, of course, “Just Listen.” I remember “Along for the Ride” being good, but like you said, not quite spectacular. Glad you enjoyed it!

  6. I loved, loved, loved this book! I haven’t read a Sarah Dessen novel since I was in high school, but I always see them on my shelf and think about re-reading them. The last one I read, I wasn’t too impressed by, but I am planning to give her another try. Great review! My favorites by her are The Truth About Forever and Lock and Key. 🙂

    • Yay! So glad to come across another Sarah Dessen fan. 🙂 I first discovered her novels when I was in secondary school as well (UK equivalent of high school) and I’ve continued to read them ever since. Ohh really? That’s a shame, which book was it?
      Thank you. 🙂 The Truth About Forever was the first Dessen book I read and it’s one of my favourites too!

      • I don’t remember the name of it- something along the lines of “goodybye”. The girl is standing on a suitcase on the cover.
        But I am not going to let it ruin me haha I am going to get her newest one and see what I think, but they really were some of my favorites to read through junior high and high school.

      • Maybe it was what Happened to Goodbye? I think I have one by that name on my shelf – it’s been lent to me by a friend. Don’t have a clue what it’s about but I took it because DESSEN. 😛
        I’m glad it didn’t totally knock you off the Dessen train, I suppose no one can be perfect all the time, not even writers with super smart editors!

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