Thursday, December 8, 2011

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

I am so glad I decided to read this one. I feel like I always manage to read a Sarah Dessen book right when I need to. I know I must have mentioned her having a predictable formula to her books when I reviewed What happened to Goodbye. But every now and then, as much as I love being shocked and surprised in YA lit, I really just want something nice and comfortable to escape into.
What Dessen writes better than almost all other realistic fiction YA authors is family. While there is usually a large romance component to the Sarah Dessen equation (though not always), what really happens in these books is some fantastic character development, a lot of growing up, and some very real family situations. There’s always something really hard happening like teen pregnancy or divorce or an abusive relationship, and while these themes seem to be becoming more prominent in realistic teen fiction, no one else can quite write about or even begin to grasp how each family member takes things like Sarah Dessen does.
This book is about Auden (named for the poet). Auden’s life is unique. She grew up with two academic parents, who both are clearly way more egocentric than any of the teen characters in this book. Her parent’s are divorced. And since her parents have been fighting (pre-divorce), Auden hasn’t really been sleeping. She’s a genius insomniac, on her way to a top college. And I love her. She starts out almost impossible to love. She judges everything and everyone as her academic mother would, never really learning to see beyond the front cover of any person.
Her transition from snob to good person happens gradually. Over the course of the book she learns to see past the pink of her stepmother, past the crying of her new little stepsister, past the child-like behavior of her brother, past the criticisms of her mother, past the selfishness of her father, past the girly lifestyles of her new friends, and past what everyone expects of her. She befriends a fellow insomniac who takes her on a quest to learn about the childhood she missed out on. She goes bowling for the first time, has a food fight for the first time, and even rides a bike for the first time (all things she missed out on as a child in effort to further her academic career).
And none of the side characters are simple. The guy, Eli, is surviving the death of his best friend, a death he kind of blames himself for. And he and Auden really connect with the things they blame themselves for, and it’s such a strong, beautiful connection. Auden’s new best friend Maggie is surviving the breakup of her first true love. Auden’s stepmother is learning how hard being a mother can be, especially with a husband so unwilling to help. Auden’s mother is learning to let her expectations of Auden go in effort to let her grow up. And Auden is learning that the divorce wasn’t her fault and that life is short and there are so many experiences she wants to have in the short time everyone is given.
The book takes place in a summer, like a lot of Dessen’s other books do, and I really like that too because I feel like summer is the ultimate growing up time for a lot of teens. It just represents a time where you can be away from everything that is normal, and break out into something new. There is also a big bike element to the story. All of the boys, and Maggie too, are involved in biking and bike tricks. Eli even wins competitions for his abilities, or did before he stopped biking. And I liked seeing how Auden interpreted all the bike stuff, and even eventually learned how to ride a bike, herself.
I loved Auden’s relationship with her brother, and watching her finally begin to realize all the reasons he spent so much of his time abroad. I loved watching her realize that it was okay to be a child or even a teenager once in a while, even when her parents needed her to be the adult in a lot of cases. I thought her relationship was her mom was really interesting too. At times, I really despised her mother, but by the end, like Auden, I just couldn’t. Her mother was really trying to maintain a relationship with her, despite all the changes.
I really enjoyed this one. Yes, it was very predictable, and very Sarah Dessen (but all in the best possible way). It’s one of my favorites by her. And I give it a 9/10.

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