Original Year of Publication: 2009
HardbackPage Count: 383
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
I've been a Sarah fan ever since I picked up This Lullaby. As a rule, I recommend her books to any teenager who wants to get into reading, or is already an avid literature fan--my mom and I share her books as well, though I always get first dibs. I've been waiting for Along for the Ride for months now.
Summary: Auden has a unique family situation: the daughter of a domineering college professor and a self-centered author, and sister to the charming world-traveler Hollis, she's used to striving to be the best. Spending the summer with her father, his girly wife Heidi, and their newborn Thisbe, is hardly the break she expected it to be. After hooking up with a random stranger on the beach--totally out of character for her--and later finding out that she'll be working with his ex, Auden's already off to a rocky start. Bumping into Eli, a silent boy who always seems to be judging her, doesn't help. Completely out of her element, Auden has to wonder if everyone around her is wrong, or if somebody else is at fault.
Along for the Ride presents a formula familiar to some Sarah Dessen fans: a perfect girl who has to learn to let her hair down, with some tough life lessons along the way. Auden was, in fact, dangerously close to becoming a bit like Macy of The Truth About Forever. However, unlike Macy, Auden doesn't have a tragedy to hide behind: it's her very alive family that's the problem--and herself.
Auden's family is a very real cast, trademark of Dessen. Her mother, Victoria, in particular reminded me of a family member of my own whom I have problems with, which makes her perfectly easy to hate, in my case. But Auden's father, Robert, is much more despisable, simply because Dessen decided to bend the evil stepmother stereotype. Heidi may not be maternal in Auden's case--there's less than a decade between them in age--but she's a far better parent, and person, than either of Auden's parents. In fact, she's one of the most likable characters in the book. Heidi and Robert's relationship shows that it often isn't one big event that rocks a relationship, but the little things, as the christening of Thisbe displays. However, I would have liked to see a bit more growth in the relationship between Heidi and Auden; I felt like we barely scratched the surface.
One thing that disappointed me was the lack of quirkiness in the supporting cast. I'm used to characters like Kristy, the flashy waitress from The Truth About Forever, or helmet-wearing Rollo of Just Listen. Maggie, Esther, and Leah were all fun and definitely more unique than many a fictional teenage girl, but they didn't resonate as other characters in different books did. Eli, too, was a bit of a let-down. He was dreamy and sweet and all, but I didn't feel the wish that he was a real guy, as I do with Wes, the tattooed artist of The Truth About Forever, music-obsessed Owen of Just Listen, or, my favorite, Dexter, This Lullaby's crazy musician.
Along for the Ride has a great story. I think that Hollis' romance with Laura and his subsequent reality check is an excellent subplot. He grows up, and reenters the real world, much to his mother's disappointment. It reminds me a lot of my own family situation, so it definitely pulled at my heartstrings.
Four out of Five Stars: ... But it should have been at least four and a half, if not five. The fact is, Along for the Ride is better than some of Sarah's earlier stuff--Keeping the Moon, That Summer, Someone Like You--but not as good as some others. There's no problem with the storyline; she's still at her A-game, there. I just wish that the characters would have resonated there. But she paints a true portrait of a girl who never lived a real life, and a family falling apart at the seams, even after a divorce. Along for the Ride really is a coming of age novel, and not just for Auden. A lot of the characters in the book get a reality check--what you want isn't always what you get. All the same, Dessen fans will probably compare I would recommend this book to any fans of the genre, but not to somebody who hasn't read Dessen before. For the best first impression, try This Lullaby
Similar Books: Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti.
Also by this Author: Lock and Key, That Summer, Keeping the Moon, Someone Like You, Dreamland, This Lullaby, The Truth about Forever, Just Listen. I've read them all, and they're all good, if not great.
Up Next: I'm reading Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon, but I don't know if I'll review it...
Edit: I don't know what is up with the underlining behind the cut, but it can't be fixed at the moment; sorry about that!