I am actually behind on my Sarah Dessen reading. I will read Along for the Ride soon because I own it. I read this book first (her lastest one) because I found a copy at the library I’m volunteering at, and knew I should snag it while I could. I am not the biggest Sarah Dessen fan, but I keep reading her books because I read them when I specifically want a teen girl coming of age story. They all sort of follow the same plot devices. And they all have a romantic element that usually overshadows the quirky family, abusive boyfriend, divorced parents, or other sort of stereotypical teen problem.
This book follows Mclean, a girl named for a basketball coach. Mclean and her father lived and breathed basketball (literally; they played, watched, talked in basketball lingo, knew all the stats, etc.) until Mclean’s mother leaves her father for the coach, Mclean’s replacement: Peter Hamilton. Mclean (girl) then ventures off with her father on his new job of restaurant saving. He travels to different restaurant and spends time with staff and managers trying to improve profits. Mclean likes moving around with her dad because with each restaurant and town, she becomes someone new. She even changes her name with each school she goes to –giving herself various personality makeovers.
This town and this restaurant that she starts the book in are different somehow. Mclean finds herself giving people her true name and actually telling the truth to her new group of friends. She sort of falls for the boy next door (who seems like a male version of the main character described on the back cover of Dessen’s Along for the Ride). He’s a boy-genius who decides to lead a more normal life in a public high school and an after school job as compared to his college courses and work in a science lab with his mother. He was fascinating. All of Mclean’s friends were amazing. And I really felt like I understood her family. In this new town, with the boy-genius and the seemingly random truths she hands out, Mclean finally begins to come to terms with her issues with her mother and her parents’ divorce. She even comes to pick up a basketball again toward the end. However, the only harder thing for Mclean than forgiving her mother seems to be permanence. How long can she stay in this town before her dad needs to move? And is it worth all the honesty and the heartache if she knows it won’t last?
What Dessen always caught me with, were her characters. They are amazing. From anyone from the love interest to a restaurant waitress, Dessen really understands people and the way they think. The dorky over achiever isn’t just a stereotypical, YA, dorky over achiever; she’s brilliant and knows a lot about tattoos and playing the drums and what to say to get people interested in something. In other words, while Dessen may write the same kind of plot over and over again with her books, her characters are what make each story different. They never come off as stereotypical teens as many characters in other YA books do. Everyone in Mclean’s life is real and affects her in a different way.
I also loved Dessen’s earlier books better. I’m not sure if this is because they were actually better stories, or if there weren’t enough yet for me to know the Dessen plot formula, or if it’s because I read them when I was younger and at the age of audience they’re meant to be for. Whatever it is, her later books have not been as good as Someone Like You, Keeping the Moon, and Dreamland.
The two things that really irked me about the book were: 1) the lack of romance, and 2) the dad never noticed that his daughter, who he was attached to the hip to, kept changing her names and personalities. At the end of the story, when all is out in the open, as it usually is in that part of a Dessen book, the dad says he had no idea about Mclean’s other names. I just don’t think this is possible. It’s like Dessen couldn’t decide how to factor the dad into the multiple personality aspect of her main character, and then she just neglected it completely with no adequate explanation.
There was a little romance. There really has to be with these books. But, there just wasn’t enough. There does not have to be romance in a book for me to love it. You just come to expect things with the Dessen plot formula. And frankly, her books just work better with the romance aspect balancing all the teen angst. In other words, there was not enough balance here, and way too much teen angst for me. Mclean was altogether too gloomy. I get why she felt the way she did about her mother, and I get that teenagers aren’t the best at getting over tough family situations, but for an 18-year old girl to be that depressed all the time about a divorce seemed at times too much for me. He life could be so much worse. She had both her parents alive, she was well off, and was always capable of making new friends. If I knew Mclean personally, like as a good friend, I would suggest some therapy. I guess Dessen usually uses the love interests as a kind of way to have the main character have someone they can talk to (a form of therapy in itself), and when the romance isn’t enough, the main character’s sanity seems lacking as well.
I give this a 6/10. I did not hate it. I still read it in less than two days. I still loved Dessen’s characters. I just know it could have been better.