Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Along for the Ride

Author: Sarah Dessen

Published: June 16th, 2009 by Penguin Group

Number of Pages: 400

Rating: 4/5

Quote:

“You know,” I said, “just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean you have to wear pink.”

“No,” Leah agreed, “but you don’t have to dress like a truck driver, either.”

“She doesn’t look like a truck driver,” I said.

Leah cocked her head to the side. “You’re right. She looks like a farmer. Or maybe a construction worker.”

“Because she’s not in pink?”

“She’s a baby,” Maggie told me. “Babies wear pastels.”

“Says who?” I asked. Esther opened her mouth to answer, but before she could I said, “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.”

They all looked at me. “You get all that,” Leah said after a moment, “from a pink Onesie?”

Synopsis:

It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.

A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend. [From Goodreads]

Review:

We all know how I feel about Sarah Dessen. I love her writing, character development, etcetera. For the most part, I genuinely enjoy her books. The first one I read, however, has been my favorite (The Truth About Forever Review), and the two I read between this one and then have been slightly disappointing, due to unpleasant main characters, among other things. Along for the Ride, however, I liked much more, and it’s definitely taking the number two slot on my Dessen list. (And can you believe I’ve read four Sarah Dessen books in a month? This is ridiculous.)

I think the reason I enjoyed this book a lot more was the main character, but another key factor was the love story. This is quite important, seeing that the plots of Dessen’s books revolve around love stories (though I think they’re really about character growth at their core). I’ve had problems with the simple, quick ways people have fallen for the other person in This Lullaby and Lock and Key. I’m not saying they were head-over-heels in love right away. The characters would never allow it. No, my problem was that I didn’t see enough of the development of the relationship. There wasn’t enough conversation. There’s plenty of that in Along for the Ride (as there is in The Truth About Forever), and I believe that exponentially increased the fun-level of the book. You really, really got to know the characters through their back and forth, and you listened/watched as the relationships were built.

Auden was a lot more likable from the start. She wasn’t making incredibly stupid decisions, though she wasn’t making all the right ones she could have been. Her problems were of the social sort. She was a fairly cold character, far too logical. There comes a time when relying on your heart is acceptable – better – than the alternative. We’re given feelings and instincts for a purpose, and though we should listen and follow them within reason, I think it’s inherent that we learn that there’s a very happy little medium between coldly logical and thoughtless and flighty. I’m ranting…

Anyway, Auden was certainly rude and a prejudiced to begin with, but she wasn’t outright mean. She simply didn’t try to be nice. It’s a selfish way to be, but you know what’s great? She has a whole book to grow out of it. Her voice and attitude were clear. One thing about her original mindset that bothered me was that she didn’t like friendly people. There is something ethically wrong with that. I can’t respect, or really even comprehend, a disliking of people that are kind. When people make an effort like that, whether they’re shallow or brilliant or whatever, it’s their right to be treated well and for their kindness to be received with gratefulness. This could easily just be a pet peeve of mine, but I simply can’t understand how someone could not respect someone who makes the effort to be friendly by default. (Ranting again. I truly think I’m finished now.)

By the end of the book, however, people changed, despite Auden’s old belief that this was impossible.

The writing is just as smooth and marvelously invisible as ever. I love it when you can completely lose yourself in the image, as opposed to the words. When an author can paint a picture with such impeccable detail that you can taste/smell/feel/hear/see precisely what the character does. You can live the story. This allows you to feel closer to both the characters and the world because instead of being an onlooker, you’re a part of it.

Eli is certainly a character with depth, and I wish I could dig inside his head (in a non-gory, blood-free, no-permanent-damage-done kind of way). I love it when there’s a character that’s well developed and wonderfully portrayed that you still want to learn more about. Auden and Eli’s after-hours (but quite innocent, for the most part) activities were tons of fun, and I found comparing the childhoods of Eli and Auden quite interesting.

The parental relationships in this book were tenuous. Heidi (stepmom) was wonderful – no wicked stepmothers here, but Auden’s real parents were, um, handfuls. Her mother is someone you certainly shouldn’t judge prematurely (I did), but even so, her attitude and condescension were certainly uncalled for and incredibly rude. She’s not very likable, but she’s someone I learned to understand and feel for. Auden’s father, on the other hand… well, I thought he was rather selfish and immature and a pain-in-the-butt throughout the book. There comes a time when people are supposed to learn that relationships – and life in general – involves copious amounts of give and take. Effort. He’s prepubescent, in this particular area.

Overall, I really, really liked the book. It did fall victim to the “oh-my-gosh-they’ll-never-be-together-it’s-the-end-of-the-world” issue in the middle epidemic, but to a lesser degree, and it recovered from its illness swiftly. I’m certainly going to recommend it (especially to fans of Dessen’s books), and I’m very happy to say that it will make you feel good, thoughtful (what, you couldn’t tell this book made me think?), and satisfied.

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