Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sarah Dessen Does It Again

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
4Q 5P; Audience: J/S

Count me in with those who love Sarah Dessen's books. Dessen has that ability to write about ordinary people with ordinary problems while never making them seem pedestrian. I often find myself wanting to know her characters better. I don't mean in the sense of "I'm not being told enough" but rather in the sense of " I'd enjoy hanging out with these people". I'm always a little sorry when I get to the last page and have to leave them behind.

In Along for the Ride, Auden is the daughter of college professors who are so intent on their own careers that they can't be bothered about the needs of their children. After years of being put through the ringer by their son, Hollis, they're delighted that Auden (several years younger) is quiet, obedient, and and overly mature for her age. So it escapes their notice that Auden has no real friends and that her only activities revolve around her academics. In fact, it pretty much escapes Auden's notice until the summer before she goes to college, when she looks around long enough to notice that her summer is stretching out before her as a long, endless plain of nothing to do and nobody to do it with. Hollis is backpacking around Europe having, as the picture frame he sends her says, "the best of times". What is she doing? Nothing. In an uncharacteristic bit of spontaneity, she calls her father to ask if she can spend the summer with him, his new wife, and their newborn daughter. To her surprise, he says yes. It's hardly the last surprise she'll get this summer.

In short order and with no intention of doing any of this, Auden finds herself hooking up with a boy she doesn't know, getting a job, and catching the attention of a mysterious loner. What is Eli's deal? It's clear that everyone likes him, so why does he hold himself apart from everyone? Eli and Auden share at least one thing in common: they're both insomniacs. They come together on those long summer nights when the rest of the world is sleeping and they share their stories and much, much more.


The book explores the question of whether people can change. I think at least a few of the 5 W's come into play when you discuss the issue. Who you are, what's going on, whether or not you recognize a need, what's important to you and how much - - all of those things come into play.

Parent expectations can be a good thing or very destructive. Use the power wisely.

I wanted to take both of Auden's parents and shake them good and hard. Her father in particular needs to be slapped. You can't be selfish and be a good parent.

Auden's not perfect. Her prejudices and presuppositions and fears get in the way of her seeing people and situations clearly, and it takes her a while to realize it, and then a while longer to do something about it. Just like real life.

Food for thought: "Life shouldn't be about the either/or. We're capable of more than that, you know?"

Quests are a good thing. ("...I kind of liked the idea of searching for something you'd lost or needed. Or both.") And they're fun to read about, even if you call them chicken salad. (Read the book. You'll get it.)

Just reading about Isby's crying and Heidi's exhaustion made me want to cover my ears, hug Heidi, and take a nap. But mostly, I wanted to lock Auden's father in the nursery with the baby and take Heidi off to the beach.

My quibble, and it's actually a pretty significant one: I can buy that Auden's parents were oblivious when they were going through the divorce and didn't have a clue how often Auden sneaked out at night to hang out at Max's Diner. It's a little hard to believe that a fourteen-year-old could pull that off for the next four years without them tipping to it, though. And this summer, Auden's stepmother is up with the baby every night. Am I honestly expected to buy that she never once asks Auden where she's been or how late it is when Auden stumbles in as the sun is rising? That her father doesn't question it when he meets her on his way out the door? (Okay, at that point in the book her father has other things on his mind. Still.) Auden's insomnia is a pretty conceit and a nice way of giving her lots of quiet time to spend with Eli. But c'mon...somebody is going to notice that she's out all night every night and call her on it.

I really liked the development of the relationships. Auden struggles with accepting her parents as they are, and they (especially her mother) struggle with accepting her as the person she is becoming. It's not easy and it's not always pleasant. Her friendship with Eli grows naturally. She doesn't meet him one day and decide she's in love with him the next. (Good move. Eli is a person well worth the time it takes getting to know him.) Similarly, Auden doesn't go from being clueless about how to hang out with other girls to being best friends in an instant. People have to tell her things and explain how friendship works before she gets it, and it's even longer before it comes to her naturally. That felt really organic to me. I also appreciated her slow realization that Heidi (her stepmother) isn't an airhead trophy wife after all. And watching Auden bond with Isby is just plain sweet.
Read Along for the Ride. Then hop on your bike and take a nice long ride with a friend. You'll be glad you did both.

Edited 7/17/09 to add a link to a blog that linked to this post:
Here's what the YAYAYAs thought about Along for the Ride. And you get a bonus book, too!

1 comment:

  1. I really like the way you write all your reviews, they're thorough and interesting.

    I was wondering, do you have a list of all your book reviews? Or maybe a list of your favourites?

    Thanks, and good job, the blog is very good =]


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