Along for the Ride is Sarah Dessen’s new novel. It follows Auden – a high school graduate living out her summer while she waits for college to start – who teaches us that messed up families come in all shapes and sizes, and that success doesn’t always make you the world greatest, most admirable person.
In a split decision, Auden decides to pack up her car and go and spend the summer at the beach with her dad. Her parents have been separated for a good long while now, and her stepmother just gave birth, so Auden figures this might be a good way to pass the summer days. What she doesn’t expect, though, is how much her summer life changes who she is inside.
For her whole life, Auden has been surrounded by academia. Her dad is a fiction writer and her mother is a literary academic, so it’s no surprise that Auden is highly academic, too. In fact, Auden is nothing but academic. She’s got no friends and no interests outside of her academic realm. Her parents raised her like she was an adult, so Auden has never really had much of a childhood, and cutesy kiddy things never seemed to hold their attention. So, Auden used the one thing she knew would work: academia. She’s spent her whole life studying like a maniac, but for what? Now that high school is over, was it really all worth it?
After spending less than a week at her dad’s place, Auden realises that marriage and a new life with someone else hasn’t changed him at all. He’s still the same selfish old man that he was before. And what about her mother? She’s an entirely different piece of work. It seems that her mother doesn’t have a sympathetic, nice bone in her body. How can Auden feel close to someone like that? How can anyone?
Enter Eli. He’s spent his whole life doing the kiddy stuff that Auden avoided, and he reckons Auden can’t leave her adolescence behind without actually experiencing some of it first. So he sets Auden on a mission: to do all the things one does when they’re young and goofy before the summer is out. The more time she spends with him, the more Auden realises that her view of the world might be a bit skewed, and very closed-minded. Eli seems to be the perfect remedy for that and Auden latches on nice and tight. What Auden doesn’t realise, though, is that Eli has some problems of his own. Problems which, according to everyone else in town, have been a permanent fixture in his life for some time now. Then Auden shows up and Eli starts to heal. Why, then, do the people around her seem so worried about all the time Eli and Auden are spending together? If Eli is getting better, shouldn’t that be a good thing?
People are very complex, but sometimes the solution is really very simple. Sometimes, all you need is a little bit of love.
Auden is a captivating character and being inside her head was a joy. I felt sad for her and at times I even felt angry with her, but most of all I found it all too easy to relate to her. High school is a time for fun, friendship and feeling free, but I think there are more Auden’s in the world than we care to admit, and something tells me that girls all over the world are going to see a little piece of themselves in her.
This, like so many of Sarah Dessen’s novels, is one of those reads where not a lot really happens, but heaps is achieved, if you know what I mean. Dessen’s writing is truly flawless, and in my opinion, she is one of the most understated young adult writers around. She deserves more credit and exposure than she gets. Her books deal with everyday teen issues that often get swept aside and chalked up to adolescent hormones. Dessen validates these issues and brings them to life, sending a message to teens everywhere that they matter, that what they feel matters. She is an asset to the world of young adult literature and someone I’ll never tire of reading. I can see myself very easily becoming obsessed with this book. Along for the Ride is one of the best I’ve read this year and deserves two very enthusiastic thumbs up.