Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Lock and Key

Author: Sarah Dessen

Published: April, 2008 by Penguin Group

Number of Pages: 432

Rating: 3/5


My point is, there are a lot of people in the world. No one ever sees everything the same way you do; it just doesn’t happen. So when you find one person who gets a couple of things, especially if they’re important ones… you might as well hold on to them. You know?”


“Ruby, where is your mother?” Ruby knows that the game is up. For the past few months, she’s been on her own in the yellow house, managing somehow, knowing that her mother will probably never return. That’s how she comes to live with Cora, the sister she hasn’t seen in ten years, and Cora’s husband Jamie, whose down-to-earth demeanor makes it hard for Ruby to believe he founded the most popular networking Web site around. A luxurious house, fancy private school, a new wardrobe, the promise of college and a future—it’s a dream come true. So why is Ruby such a reluctant Cinderella, wary and defensive? And why is Nate, the genial boy next door with some secrets of his own, unable to accept the help that Ruby is just learning to give? [From Goodreads]


As you can tell by my The Truth About Forever review, I’ve recently become a Sarah Dessen fan. A big one. The size of my uncles (the ones above 6’3″). Yeah – that big.

In all honesty, I enjoyed The Truth About Forever more than this book, but that does not change the fact that Sarah Dessen is a phenomenal author. In comparison to TTAF, this book would get a 3/5, but in comparison to the YA book world at large, it still earns the 4/5 – completely.

I was astounded by the difference in voice between the two books. Naturally, this is supposed to be the case, but I don’t think I’ve ever read two books by the same author that were so incredibly different. This shows that Dessen is a master at character voice. Word choice, sentence structure – everything was signature of the character. I was mightily impressed.

One of the reasons I didn’t like this book quite as much was the fact that I felt the story moved along too quickly. Sure, I felt like I got to know people well enough, but ultimately, I would have liked to see a lot more of nearly everyone. I was satisfied with Jamie and Cora’s (brother-in-law and sister) amount of “screen time”, but I thought that Olivia (friend) and Nate (love interest) deserved more focus. In the case of Nate, this was a pretty big issue. It seemed to me, as a reader, that Ruby had fallen for him too quickly, mostly because the time where I assume she got to know him better is  usually skimmed over. Perhaps it’s that Dessen was trying to cover too much time. I’m not sure what the real problem was, but I do know that a few of the relationships and bits of character development felt rushed because I didn’t really get to see the scenes that lead up to them/their growth.

Lock and Key tackles a very difficult topic. I’m always impressed by authors who tend to delve into the depths of real, heart-breaking emotional plots. Dessen seems to be one of these authors, and the story behind this book is heart-wrenching. As a kid, the thought of having a relationship like Ruby and her mother’s with my parents scares the living daylights out of me. I trust my mom and dad, and they (believe it or not) seem to trust me. Reading about Ruby’s experiences in a household where a mother scoots her daughter out of bed in the middle of the night so the guy out back can snuggle up is, if nothing else, highly disturbing.

I mentioned that Jamie and Cora were two of the more focal characters, and I loved them! Jamie is the sort of person I immediately like. Someone I’d look up to. He’s friendly from the start, gives people the benefit of the doubt, and genuinely seems to care immediately about everyone. The greatest part is, he’s not an angel. People like him actually exist, and while reading about him, I can keep the people like that who I know in mind. It makes the reading experience very enjoyable to relate characters to people I love.

Cora is a beautifully diverse character. I loved watching as Ruby unearthed her sister from beneath the mounds of soil she’d been buried under for so many years. Cora reminds me of a lot of the women in my family – hardworking, emotional, and occasionally strung-out (haha). Again, reading’s always more enjoyable when it reminds you of people you care about.

And… the love interest. Snag alert. Honestly, I felt like I really needed to see more of him. For the most part, I love his character, his personality, etc. and can sympathize with his situation. He seems like a pretty great kid. In the end, though, I feel just that – he seems like a pretty great kid. How can I tell when I didn’t see much of him? One thing I loved about The Truth About Forever were Macy and Wes’s Truth sessions (a game where you take turns asking questions and the other person has to answer truthfully). I’d never gotten to know characters so well. A lot of the time, it’s the small things that really help you relate to someone. Even their favorite breakfast cereal will stick with you.

The love interest being the second most important character to nail, Ruby is the first. She’s an incredibly deep character. There were so many little pieces of her that you scavenged throughout the book and, when fitted together, they make a beautiful picture. Though she irritated me a lot at times (due to her jerkiness to some awesome people, which was understandable, given her past, but still annoying – and her refusal to receive help, a quality that never fails to amaze or bug me), and I couldn’t always endorse her choices, I liked her. She’s a character who really, really needed to grow, and she did. I admired and respected her more by the end of the book, which is the way it should be.

In the end, this novel resonated with me. The prose is magical (that sounds way more corny than I intended it to), the characters are fabulous, though a bit shady, and I can’t imagine how I managed to sustain myself this long with Sarah Dessen’s novels.

4 Commentsto “Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen; Review”

  1. You have to read This Lullaby, I believe it's Dessen's best novel, you'll love it

  2. Aahh, awesome review again! I agree, I like TTAF a bit more than this one, but it was still a great book. I also really liked how different it was, and deals with a different topic with different personalities but tsill manages to be insanely enjoyable 😀 i'm glad your a dessen fan now!!

  3. Good review. 🙂 I agree with you on this book, haha. I'm glad you have started reading Sarah Dessen books, because I really enjoy them myself. A few I recommend are 'Keeping the Moon' and 'Along For the Ride'. 🙂

  4. Great review! This actually isn't one of my favorite Dessen books, even though I adore her–she's my YA writing inspiration. Like you, I found the love story a little meh, especially compared to THIS LULLABY (my favorite Dessen) and ALONG FOR THE RIDE. I also highly recommend DREAMLAND–a much darker book, but excellently written.

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