Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Along for the Ride is without a doubt my favorite Sarah Dessen book yet.  The main character, Auden, is one that I easily relate to.  Maybe it’s her sometimes lack of social skills or her dedication to academic achievements- either way, I felt like she was me at times.

Auden has never really seen anything wrong with the fact that she was an adult without ever experiencing a true childhood.  Her parents, both academics, have always treated her like an adult.  She never played kickball, ran around the neighborhood, or even rode a bike.  Sure, she had a few friends from her private school, but she mostly spent all of her time studying. What she doesn’t realize is that she has spent her whole life trying to prove something to her parents.

But when her parents divorce and her dad remarries, she begins to think maybe everything she did wasn’t enough. She stopped sleeping when her Dad moved out, and spends her insomniac nights at a local diner.  When her stepmother has a baby, Auden suddenly decides to throw away her summer plans and go stay with her father, stepmother, and new sister. Spending the summer in a small beach town, she suddenly has the opportunity to relive everything she never got to experience during her childhood- most importantly friendship and love. And when she realizes that she may only be a shell of what her parents want and nothing like what she, Auden wants, she learns that it’s never too late to grow up and be who you want to be.

This is the perfect book to read on a warm summer day.  Dessen has crafted a gorgeous story, with characters who are flawed like normal human beings.  Yet despite their flaws, they are all likeable.  I don’t know how she does it, but Dessen gets better and better with each book she writes!

Highly recommended for middle school and high school libraries.

(And at certain points in the story, you can see the love of a new mother beaming through the story, like a flashlight in a darkened room.  It’s an amazing testament to the love Sarah Dessen has for her young daughter.  I can’t help but wonder what it will be like for her daughter to someday read this book, thinking all the time that her mother had to have been using her own experiences as a new mother.  It’s gorgeous and will be a wonderful gift someday.)

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Today, after cleaning my house, I curled up on the couch with my coveted ARC of Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen. Let’s just say- it’s a good thing I put dinner in the crockpot before I started, because once I began reading I was completely hooked. Ruby is my favorite Dessen character and this is perhaps her best work yet. I can not wait to pass it on to her fans in my class.

Ruby’s life has never been easy. Since her parents divorced when she was five, her mother’s life has slowly spiraled out of control. The only consistent part of Ruby’s life was her big sister, and protector, Cora. But when Cora turned 18, she left for college and never came back. “It’s just you and me, baby,” Ruby’s mom says. Day by day, Ruby becomes the adult in their relationship, making sure her mom has a job, a clean house, and her bills paid. But her mother uproots them constantly, moving to new houses and new schools, to outrun the creditors and bad landlords of their past. As abnormal as life is, Ruby settles in to the routine of it all. That is until one day, her mother is gone. At first, Ruby assumes she will be back when the money runs out or she wears out her welcome wherever she is. As the days and then weeks go by, Ruby realizes she is completely and totally on her own. She develops a plan to fly under the radar and make it to her 18th birthday, when she will legally be capable of caring for herself. Everything is going according to plan, until she is discovered by her landlords.

Before she realizes what is happening, she has been plucked out of her home, her school, and her comfort zone. Her sister has shown up for the first time in years, with a husband in tow, to claim Ruby and take her home. Suddenly, Ruby is living in a mansion, in a gated community, and attending Perkins Day. She has transferred from one of the largest and most overcrowded schools in the county to a prestigious prep school. A prep school to which her new brother-in-law has donated an entire athletic complex. A prep school where almost everyone comes from money and is money.

Life couldn’t be more different or uncomfortable for Ruby or her new “family”. Suddenly, she and Cora are forced to face their own past. And when Ruby meets Nate, her new neighbor, she must confront her own fears and insecurities. Which is more important- caring for yourself or for someone else?  What is the definition of family?  What is friendship?  Questions that once seemed so easy to answer are now seemingly impossible.

Sarah Dessen has done it again. Lock and Key is at once heartwarming and heartbreaking. The characters of Nate and Ruby are wonderfully drawn. Harriet is the stressed out, caffeine-addicted, independent woman we all know and love. Trust me, she’s somewhere in your life! The relationships between Ruby and Cora, Cora and Jamie, and Ruby and Jamie are realistic and complicated. The ending does not leave you wanting more- all the loose ends are tied up while still leaving the reader hopeful. And the symbolism of the lock and key? Absolute magic. (Viking is missing out if they don’t create some type of marketing based on the KeyChains! I am dying for one!)

Lock and Key will be released April 22, 2008.