Last year, my high school students introduced me to Sarah Dessen’s work. I’ve been hooked ever since. Not only does she create complex, believable characters, she tackles real issues that affect teenagers today – such as teen pregnancy, eating disorders, neglect, child abuse, divorce, abandonment, and even the extreme turmoil of emotions involved in first love. But she does it with grace and teaches lessons with subtlety. I think what I love most is the way her words flow almost poetically at times. Her characters show insight and depth that most people, mistakenly, don’t associate with adolescents. But as a teacher, I know that they can be just as unique, perceptive, and complicated as Dessen portrays through her characters. This is why she has such a loyal following.
The conflict of the novel revolves around a senior in high school dealing with the divorce of her parents, adjusting to the lives they’ve created without her, and her overall sense of abandonment. Auden, the main character, has spent her life trying to please her parents. Well-educated and successful, they have raised her in a very adult world and she, being a serious child, never truly gets to experience a childhood or even adolescence and the many firsts that come with being a typical kid or teenager. Having few friends at home due to her intense focus on her academics, she decides to spend the summer at the beach with her dad, his young new wife, and their newborn baby. An expert at keeping people at a distance in order to save herself from hurt, she reluctantly finds herself becoming involved with the people of the small town of Colby – particularly, the loner, Eli. And slowly, she gets to experience life as a “normal” teenager.
I enjoyed Along for the Ride. It was a quick read and as usual, the characters were well-developed. However, I can’t say that it was my favorite of Dessen’s novels. There were moments when I thought the plot dragged or when I wanted to shake Auden or her father and mother for their lack of commitment. Ultimately, however, the conflicts were resolved and I was left feeling satisfied and uplifted. But somehow, Dessen’s words struck me as a bit less prosaic, symbolic, or meaningful as her previous work.
This is a worthwhile read, but I would wait for the soft cover edition. In case you’re interested, Keeping the Moon, The Truth about Forever, and Lock and Key were some of my favorites and I definitely recommend them. Actually, I can't really think of one of her novels that I didn't like!
In this video, Sarah Dessen explains how she came to write Along for the Ride: