Title: Along for the Ride
Author: Sarah Dessen
Length: 383 pages
My star rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
When Auden West receives a souvenir from her brother who is backpacking in Europe, it inspires her to spend her last summer before college visiting her father and stepmother in the quaint beach town of Colby instead of closeted in her childhood home. Her relaxing vacation, however, quickly becomes a whirlwind adventure for Auden, whose focus in high school was academics rather than a social life. Yet even as she steps outside of her comfort zone and into the “world of girls,” Auden also finds herself reliving the trauma of the end of her parents’ marriage and remembering all her own guilt and insecurities as tensions in the house rise.
Sarah Dessen came recommended to me by a friend, otherwise I might never have picked up this sweet little story. I’ve been burned by chick lit before and gotten a meandering, plodding, depressing mess instead of a bubblegum beach book. And is this ever a bubblegum beach book!
The story is predictable, typical YA romance/chick lit, but nonetheless engaging and fun and, for the most part, heartfelt as well.
Half of the characters were great–three-dimensional and sympathetic. These included Auden, who begins her stay in Colby as a judgmental, antisocial night-owl and transforms into a supportive big sister and friend; Auden’s stepmother Heidi, of whom I was actually dying to see more throughout the whole book; and Maggie, Auden’s coworker and eventual friend. Maggie is the one who says this to Auden directly, though it’s echoed in what she learns about Heidi over the course of the summer.
“Who says you have to be either smart or pretty, or into girly stuff or sports? Life shouldn’t be about the either/or. We’re capable of more than that…”
Yeah, go Maggie!
The love interest, Eli, was…fine. Just fine. He was neither as memorable nor as forgettable as other characters in the book. I didn’t dislike him, nor did I ever really connect with him.
And then there were the rest: various friends of Heidi and Maggie and Eli, none of whom I could keep straight; Auden’s flighty brother; and of course, Auden’s truly awful parents. Both were selfish and self-centered and wanted everything to go their own way, though her father was definitely the worse of the two. Her mother was arrogant, overconfident, self-righteous, and assumed she knew best for Auden no matter what. She was also constantly putting other women and girls down for being interested in things like fashion and makeup. (Horrors!) Her father, meanwhile, was almost comically self-absorbed, cowardly, and controlling. It was his way or the highway for his new wife and their baby–even though he never lifted a finger to help actually care for said baby–and it got so bad that I really hoped that Heidi would take baby Thisbe and walk out. To make matters worse, both parents fawned over their irresponsible absentee son while sort of taking their daughter for granted, expecting her to be more of an adult than a child even when she was a child.
So while her parents endlessly
frustrated pissed me off, their glaring flaws were a source of growth and introspection for Auden. They didn’t hinder the story too badly. No spoilers, but I do wish their character arcs hadn’t been tied up so neatly at the end of the book. It just felt too easy when Auden spent three hundred pages growing, changing, and struggling against the demons of her past.
The romance also left me pretty indifferent. This might have been because I was so ambivalent about Eli as a character. Since this book was, at least in large part, a romance, my lack of investment in the romance probably should’ve sunk the book for me–but fortunately, it didn’t.
As a whole, Along for the Ride was a pretty quick, fun summer read, though below the surface it was a bit darker and more complex than I was expecting. It will, at the very least, have you cheering for Auden to stand up to her pushy, selfish parents and discover her own identity. Fair warning, though: it might also leave you pining for the beach (it did me)!