Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
Published: June 16, 2009 by Viking Juvenille
Received: Gifted by Capillya
[Sarah Dessen's newly redesigned covers can be found here.]
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.
In her signature pitch-perfect style, Sarah Dessen explores the hearts of two lonely people learning to connect. [goodreads]
Visiting a Sarah Dessen book is like visiting the best and worst of times in my younger years. There is something so comforting and raw about her stories that I just adore. She can develop a character that may not necessarily be true to my exact past, but there's always bits and pieces of myself I hear in so many of the voices she speaks through out her novels.
Along for the Ride really stood out to me. I've read quite a few Dessen books, but something about this one grabbed me and made it difficult to put down. The story begins just as Auden has graduated from high school. She never truly had a childhood; always coaxed into growing up before her age defined it. Auden's mother and father spent the later half of her teenage years in deep arguments late into the night. Auden attempted to stay up all night, in hopes that if her parents knew she was awake in the wee morning hours, then maybe, just maybe they would stop fighting and get along. Unfortunately, that is not the case and Auden's parents got a divorce.
The summer before she is to go away to college, Auden decides to visit her father, his new wife, and their newborn daughter. In an attempt to escape her mother's overbearing, critical eye; Auden is hoping to fly under the radar at her dad's house for the summer. Taking all her academic books in tow, what she finds in this small beach side town is far from anything she could learn through a textbook. Auden discovers that sometimes life gives you second chances. Through a series of unforgettable characters, and one particular boy, Auden gets a second chance at unearthing the girl who's laid dormant for far too long.
There is something magical about the hours after midnight, that as a teen, you feel the world is yours to do whatever you want with. My favorite moments of this novel occurred when Eli took Auden on her "quest" to experience things from her childhood, that she seemed to miss out on. These two characters were holding on to some pretty emotional pasts, but the connection they found in the middle of the night as they walked the aisles of the 24-hour grocery store, drank coffee at the local laundry mat, or even considered learning how to ride a bike; cured their loneliness. When the world was asleep, Eli and Auden were alive.
The deeper issues which Auden waded through when it came to her parents and their divorce presented a mature tone to the story. Though this girl was having fun during those late night hours, she still had demons to battle when it came to accepting that her parents choices did not dictate the person she should be. I loved the unexpected connection Auden found in her stepmother Heidi, and the girl friends she met through Heidi's store. Though Auden expected a summer of nothing, what she got was a summer that changed her life.
Sarah Dessen has a way with words that sneak up on you when you're not expecting them to. I found myself marking pages, line after line. She knows how to send a message, but not in a preachy way. If there is ever an author to recommend to a teenager, I would most definitely choose Sarah Dessen, and in particular this story. Dessen is a timeless writer. I feel that her stories have the capacity to touch each generation; continuously moving forward for new readers to discover.