Sunday, June 03, 2012

Book #20 of 2012: "Along for the Ride" by Sarah Dessen

As you may have all gathered by now, I'm rather on a Sarah Dessen kick this summer.  This is my fourth by her in quick succession, sixth overall.  I honestly think that Along for the Ride may be my favorite book by her yet (although This Lullaby and What Happened to Goodbye are also contendors).

First of all, let me just say that the cover of this novel gets a big "FAIL" in my opinion.  Way too flirty and girly.  After all, Auden (the main character of this novel) would never be caught dead wearing pink, much less some frilly thing like that.  Definitely needs an adjustment of cover art.

But thankfully, I have learned not to judge a book by its cover, so I was able to immerse myself in Auden's world.  She is 18 and about to head to college, but she never had much of a childhood.  Her parents are both university professors, authors, academics, and the world's most selfish people.  She has been expected to be a "little adult" for her entire life, whereas her older brother Hollis is the perpetual golden boy, free to do whatever he wants--which is currently taking a 2-year trip around Europe with his parents' money and no particular goal in mind.

Largely because she has no social life and no plans for the summer, Auden makes a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision (very rare for her) to take her father up on his offer to have her come for a visit.  Her father, his new wife (Heidi, only 26 years old), and their brand-new baby girl Thisbe (a name which basically no one except the selfish father approves of) have a house on the coast, and since Auden basically hasn't seen much of her father since her parents divorced three years earlier, she decides to go for a visit.

This visit meets with stern disapproval from her mother, an ardent feminist, who is sure that a summer at the beach will turn Auden into a frivolous, bikini-wearing ditz.  (Incidentally, Auden's mother wants her to spend the summer reading all the textbooks for her upcoming first semester in college--something that the academically-driven Auden actually spends a significant portion of time doing.)  And when Auden arrives at her father's house, she finds her stepmother to be absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed by a colicky baby, her father locking himself in his office daily to "work on his novel" (and providing no help whatsoever with the constantly screaming baby), and their marriage in a tense, miserable state that she recognizes all too well from her own parents' split.

Out of pity for Heidi, Auden agrees to take a part-time job doing the bookkeeping and accounting duties for Heidi's boutique, which is about as girly of a store as you could ever imagine.  There she meets Maggie, Esther, and Leah.  Auden has no idea how to interact with these girls, since she has been basically without friends and totally immersed in academics for her entire life.  During her nocturnal wanderings (originally designed to avoid hearing her parents fight, but now a habit she can't seem to break), Auden also meets Eli, a former bike afficionado who abrubtly quit his hobby (and his social life) a year earlier when his best friend was killed in a car accident.  Slowly, Auden develops relationships with all of these people and begins a "quest" to make up for her lost childhood.

While I really enjoyed Auden and her storyline, I was also very drawn to the character of Heidi.  This poor mama has one difficult baby on her hands.  Her husband is basically AWOL (which is actually preferable to the scenes where he does show up and fight with her) and she has essentially no support network.  She is exhausted and overwhelmed and has no idea where to turn or how to recapture her old life.  Man, let me tell you, I really felt for her.  Motherhood, especially the first time around, is an overwhelming enterprise.  Maybe it's my own pregnancy hormones, but I totally sympathized with her.  I also loved the way that she supported and cared for Auden in the midst of her own troubles--providing pretty much the only reasonable adult influence in the novel.

If you're in the mood for some chick lit, I definitely recommend this book.  It's a quick read, and unlike a lot of other books I've read, I felt like there were real storylines for both teens and adults.  If you're a Sarah Dessen fan and have somehow missed this one so far, you definitely need to check it out!


Melissa said...

Thanks, as usual, for a great commentary on the book. Adding this to a long list of books I should someday read. Also, I find it interesting that the MC is heading off to college. I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a literary agent who said never to do that in YA. Even 17 years old is pushing it. But I guess if you've already become a NYT bestselling author, you can break the rules a little bit!

Melissa said...

Thanks, as usual, for the great commentary. I'm adding this to the long list of books I should someday read :) Also, I find it interesting that the MC is heading off to college. Is this considered YA? I'm reminded of a recent conversation I had with a literary agent who said never to do that (apparently even 17 years old is pushing it for the genre).... But then again, I guess if you are a NYT bestselling author, you can probably break the rules a little bit! Thanks again for the great post!

amypfan said...

It's interesting that you say that. In Sarah Dessen's first book (That Summer), her main character was younger, maybe 15. In all of her other books, though, the main characters are high school seniors or in the summer following their senior years, preparing to head off to college (and often are at college by the end of the novel). Like you said, if you're an NYT bestselling author, you can probably do what you want...