Enjoyed the Ride


A Review of Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen.

It's the summer before Auden heads off to college, and out of sheer boredom she decides to visit her father, his new wife, and their new baby daughter for the summer in Colby, a little beach front town. Her dad's new wife, Heidi, who owns a trendy clothing boutique and surrounds herself in everything pink is completely opposite of her Mom, an academia celebrity and the head of the English department at a university, who considers things like Barbies to be weapons of chauvinism. At first Auden can't stand the manufactured waves Heidi uses to try to lull the baby to sleep, can't stand the way Heidi always talks and talks, saying whatever comes to her mind, and especially can't stand how the girls in Colby do nothing but gossip about boys and talk about clothes. But the more time she spends in Colby, the more she realizes all that she's missed out on, spending her childhood like a miniature adult rather than a child.

Then there's Eli Stock. Aloof and judgmental at first, he works at the local bike shop and Auden seems to always run into him in the middle of the night: both of them dealing with insomnia for different reasons. And then he comes up with the idea of her quest, and they spend their nights searching for new ways she can have a second chance at her childhood: going bowling, starting food fights, playing dodgeball, breaking curfew, dancing at a club. There are moments that seem perfect and there are moments that are hard - hardest when Auden has to face something she's not good at. Of course, one thing she isn't good at is having a boyfriend and relating to people, because before this summer she never really has. And Eli has some issues of his own.

As should be expected from any Sarah Dessen novel, these characters are complex in contrast to the simple plot, and the book is hard to put down at any moment. And for fans of The Truth About Forever, this book has several similarities. Auden is very similar to Macy. Both are trying very hard to be perfect and do what their mothers expect of them, and something chaotic (for Auden it's Heidi and the baby) changes them for the better. Eli is very similar to Wes - he's also a minimalist and is dealing with loss. And Jason Talbot even makes an appearance as they guy who stood Auden up for the prom, for an environmental conference of all things - and she understood! Despite the similarities, I liked both Auden and Eli very much and didn't have too much trouble distinguishing them from Macy and Wes and keep the stories separate.

One big difference, I felt was Auden's parents. Her mother, the woman who prides herself on always being the smartest person in the room, is tough on Auden and not exactly warm and fuzzy, and also like Macy's mother doesn't really supervise her daughter much since she's a mini adult already. But some of her thoughts and some of her dialogue is hilariously original. Despite her selfish nature and the moments when I wished I could smack her, she really was one of my favorite characters to read about in the whole book, even if it was just reading about her through Auden's words.

When Maggie, one of Auden's new found friends in Colby says baby's always wear pastels rather than black, Auden, as her mother would, questions "Says who?" And as if she is channeling the voice of her mother, herself, she adds: "Society. The same society, I might add, that dictates that little girls should always be sugar and spice and everything nice, which encourages them to not be assertive. And that, in turn, then leads to low self-esteem, which can lead to eating disorders and increased tolerance and acceptance of domestic, sexual, and substance abuse."

I did, however, find myself frustrated with Auden's father. I didn't like him, at all. Usually, I feel Sarah Dessen's characters are all complex enough that even through their faults, they're likable. I just didn't feel that way about her dad. He was selfish, manipulative, and immature, and I couldn't fathom how two such driven and intelligent women could have allowed themselves to fall in love with and marry him. The rest of the minor characters, I really enjoyed, especially Maggie and some of the other local teenagers in Colby who despite not much face time still managed to have unique personalities.

Overall, I really liked the story, and I don't think Dessen fans will be disappointed, but it won't keep me up at night stewing over the story or thinking about the characters, and I won't read it over and over again. It was a feel-good, and it made me smile, but just good.

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1 comment:

Brianne said...

I've heard that about a lot of Sarah Desson books. Nothing to keep you up at night over.
I wonder what she could change about her stories that WOULD keep pople up at night. Hmmm, something I shall ponder. ;-)