Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Review - Along for the Ride / Sarah Dessen

Summary - It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.

A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend.

Review - I love Sarah Dessen but I am not the only one. There are masses of us that have all been yearning for another SD book and we are fortunate enough to have the normal wait shortened by a year as Sarah hit an extra productive patch. I really enjoyed Along for the Ride, heck I finished it in a couple of hours but I don't think it matched the brilliance of Just Listen or The Truth About Forever.

I have heard people talking about the SD formula. There is definitely one but since her characterisation is bang on, I don't really care. Auden is a character that is reminiscent of Macy - the perfectionist that has deliberately distanced herself from real life. Whereas The Truth About Forever's Macy was doing it to dull the pain of her father's abrupt death, Auden is doing her best to attain her parent's approval and attention. Auden is a different kettle of fish in other ways, she's not particularly shy, rather she's social inept. She never stretched her social "muscle". This leads to some hilarious interaction with one particular skank and her burgeoning relationship with the girls from Clementine's (her stepmother's clothing store).

Like all Sarah Dessen protagonists, Auden has an interesting home life full of colourful characters, a friend that surprises her and a main man who's soulful and yummy. I really enjoyed the focus on people not always being as they appear. Whether it be Auden's father revealing himself to be a jackass (consistently), her stepmother revealing herself to be an infallible human and Maggie proving herself to be multi-dimensional rather than just pink.

One issue I have a huge problem is Auden's action at her first ever party. Her new friends say it's understandable later on (I am being deliberately vague) but her choice was one that never really sat right with me. We also don't know the extent of this choice. It's also something that's never really expanded upon when Auden starts crushing on her bad choice's brother, Eli. There needed to be some follow through.

My favourite aspects would have to be any scene where Auden and Thisbe are together. Although my experience with babies is relatively minor, I could recognise the reality of the situation. Babies aren't sweet little pockets of joy, laughter and rainbows most of the time. They cry, they poop and then they cry again for good measure. It was lovely to see this sisterly relationship develop. That might sound strange of a teen and an infant but the latter did have a distinct, genuine personality that allowed for some great moments, both humorous and heart wrenching.

Eli - ahh the boy du jour. The idea of these two spending time together, careening around Colby (SD's second favourite town) exploring the "hotspots" and keeping one another company was fun. The reality of this situation is that they didn't really delve deep into their issues with a timely deep and meaningful conversation. Bits and pieces were revealed, usually when their shields were taking a beating, and it was very authentic to the teen experience. Very few of us will spill our lives stories to one another, regardless of reciprocated attraction. Eli has an intriguing back story, a heart of gold and a fresh look but he didn't really spark off the page. He's a little too good to be true, but isn't that what we'd all love?

Auden and Eli connect as they both suffer insomnia. While I see that Eli is genuinely suffering from the inability to sleep, I feel that Auden is suffering from bizarre sleeping patterns. Developing insomnia due to frequent nighttime parental arguments doesn't sound all that legit to me. But it's this condition that opens up Auden to the new branch of her family, new friends and a new perspective on life and what's important.

My review is critical but I really did enjoy this novel. I think Sarah Dessen has carved out a career with excellent characterisation, interesting settings, the magic of summer and some fantastic dialogue. Her characters always grow, finding themselves amidst life's chaos, connecting (or re-connecting) with others and finding their strength. Along for the Ride gives readers another protagonist that is a great role model to young women, one that is flawed but learns to love her flaws and the flaws of others. A read well worth the wait.

Published: June 2009
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Penguin Aust.
Origin: USA
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prophecygirl said...

Great review Adele. I'm really excited to read this, and I like your critical take on it. The characters sound brilliant, as always!

Michelle said...

This is a really great review! I can't wait until the 16th, so I can buy Along for the Ride. I'm super excited. :D

Thao said...

I love your honest review. It, actually makes me more excited to read this book than ever.

Summer said...

Wow detailed review. You put a lot of thought into it. I think if you like one Sarah Dessen book you're gonna like them all!