TITLE: Along For the Ride
AUTHOR: Sarah Dessen
GENRE: YA Contemporary
FORMAT: eBook, 383 Pages
Auden has always felt more alive at night. She escapes the confines of her quiet, scripted life and drives out into the darkness, drinking coffee in all-night diners or just feeling the wind on her face. When she decides to do something different for the summer and stay with her father, stepmother and newborn stepsister in the seaside town of Colby, Auden doesn’t expect her nocturnal existence to change. But as it turns out, she isn’t the only one who stays up all night, and despite everything she’s learned to believe, change still can happen to anyone and anything.
I have so much love for this book. I know it’s often the case that the first book you read from an author is the most magical experience and you won’t be able to recreate it. Sort of like a law of diminishing returns, only for books. But Along For the Ride surprised me by quickly becoming a contender for my favorite Dessen book ever, and this is after reading four of her books within the last few weeks. If you choose The Truth About Forever as your first Sarah Dessen novel, make Along For the Ride your second.
I liked Auden right away, I think partly because I’m a night owl too. I completely understood the appeal of those late hours between midnight and sunrise, when it really does feel like the world is different. During the day, Auden is so serious, so diligent; she’s spent her entire life trying to be the kind of girl her scholarly, extremely feminist mother might want for a daughter. Meanwhile, her father has remarried and moved to a quaint beach town in the years since the divorce, and her brother Hollis is backpacking somewhere through Europe having the time of his life. Now it’s Auden’s last summer before college, and she finds herself longing for something to change, despite her mother’s assertion that people don’t change at all.
The best thing about Auden as a protagonist was her tendency to choose the option that I never would have expected her to take. You can tell from the synopsis that she’s going to experience a transformation, and this is a Dessen novel so you know it’s going to happen regardless, but she surprised me by being SO proactive about the process. Yes, she is reluctant, but even in her reluctance Auden is ultimately the one who instigates the changes in her life. She personally chooses to do these things that are A) outside her comfort zone or B) not at all what she even WANTS to do and the result is a legit transformation for her character. I loved that her learning experiences were self-imposed. She tries these new things without an outside force shoving her into them. Auden actively chooses her path, which means she takes most of the credit.
Along For the Ride also features something we don’t see enough of in YA, across all genres: examples of women working together rather than plotting against each other. Auden has never had very many friends to begin with, least of all friends who are girls. Her mother looks down on women who like pink, fluffy, frilly things because she sees this as buying into the whole feminine stereotype, and her beliefs have pretty much colored the way Auden thinks. But this novel does an amazing job of showcasing women and girls supporting one another through friendship, sisterhood and motherhood, and it also makes a strong statement that liking pink, happy, frilly things doesn’t mean your brain is made of 100% fluff. In the words of Auden’s new friend Maggie, “Who says you have to be either smart or pretty, or into girly stuff or sports? Life shouldn’t be about the either/or. We’re capable of more than that, you know?” Guys, I love this message. And I love that Auden discovers the beauty of having friends you can paint your nails with, gossip about boys with, do all those fun girly things with, and yet can still have intelligent conversations with at the same time.
Of course, as awesome as the girls are, I can’t ignore the one very important guy. (Right???) The only Dessen boy I like better than Auden’s bike-riding, late-night shopping, coffee-drinking Eli is Wes from The Truth About Forever, and it’s an extremely close second. They are pretty similar I think, but what made me love Eli was the fact that he surprised me as much and as often as Auden did. And he wasn’t perfect — he made mistakes just like she did, and they were both running away from things they’d rather not think about or relive ever again. But Eli challenges Auden to try what she’s never done before, and to see things from different perspectives. Plus, can I just say that I love Dessen books for proving that romance is possible WITHOUT two teenagers getting all hot and heavy all the time?? Call me old-fashioned, but I think it’s more effective, as well as refreshing.
Aside from a few snags in the plot towards the end (that made me scream at Auden while shaking my iPad and trying to will the words to fall out so I could rewrite them the way I felt things should be…), Along For the Ride was everything I’ve come to love about Sarah Dessen’s writing, from the realistic and yet vibrant characters to the simple comfort of knowing that her stories have happy endings, no matter how complicated. It’s a light, heartwarming read that isn’t shallow. Oh, if you’ve read Lock & Key (which I reviewed yesterday), Ruby’s key necklaces make an appearance in the store owned by Auden’s stepmother :) AND, if you’ve read The Truth About Forever, you’ll have to laugh while reading this because JASON TALBOT STRIKES AGAIN haha!!