Along for the Ride is classic Sarah Dessen, which means, of course, that it’s awesome. The novel follows Auden, an insomniac overachiever who doesn’t really know how to let loose, live, have fun, and connect with people, through the summer after she graduates high school and before she starts her freshman year at a prestigious university.
Rather than staying at home with her overbearing, intellectual, egotistical mother, she decides to visit her father, his new wife, and her new sister in the beach town of Colby. When she packs, she fills an entire suitcase with her textbooks to get an early start on college reading–that’s the kind of girl Auden is, but that’s not who she’ll be at the end of the summer.
In Colby, Auden finds her father too immersed in his novel to care about his new family. She finds herself wandering the town at night, first alone, and then with Eli, a local guy who also doesn’t sleep at night. Eli is dealing with his past, and helping Auden rediscover hers and do all the things she missed out on for the past eighteen years, when her parents expected her to be a miniature adult rather than a child or teenager. She also, after a rough start in which she hooks up with a guy who turns out to be the recent ex-boyfriend of a girl who works in her stepmother Heidi’s store, finds herself some surprising new friends, once she learns to stop judging people at first glance, something she learned from her holier-than-thou mother. A lot happens in Auden’s summer of transformation, and it all comes down to connecting with people and living life.
As I read, I kept finding similarities in this book to my favorite Sarah Dessen novel, This Lullaby. Both books, for example, involve older brothers transformed by their girlfriends and heroines who have had to grow up too fast and whose worldviews are changed by new guys. There was more, but I don’t remember right now, and it’s not important. Anyway, it was inevitable that I would be comparing the two books, with those similarities that stuck out to me (also I reread the first book just before reading this new one) and I’m sad to say that I didn’t find Along for the Ride to be quite as strong. The characters weren’t quite as real, the voice not quite as distinct, the world not quite as vivid. Of course, not the best of Sarah Dessen is still completely excellent. I loved this book, and was not fond of putting it down. The writing drew me into Auden’s world, into the town of Colby and kept me fascinated with the lives of its residents. Auden, and all the characters, were excellently well-drawn, with people being Sarah Dessen’s real strength in all her books. She makes them real, and she always focuses a lot on the relationships between them (all kinds–friends, family, romance, it’s all here). This book is no exception; everything in that regard was very well-done. This novel does not disappoint; it is typically wonderful Sarah Dessen.
Four and a half out of six windows: