Sunday, January 25, 2009

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Auden is your classic overachiever: she’s studious and entirely too serious. What’s more, she deprived herself of a normal high school experience—one with friends and fun—opting instead for the academic route. Which did indeed work, because she got into a great university, the one she’d be attending come August. In the meantime, there is the whole summer stretching before her, and suddenly, spending it at home with her holier-than-thou, my-feminism-is-better-than-yours, literary professor of a mother and her revolving door of grad student flirts, dinner parties and drinking isn’t cutting it. So, Auden decides to spend summer in Colby (this isn’t set in Lakeview!) with her father, her stepmother Heidi (whom her mother deems a waste of space because of her girly tendencies), and their newborn Thisbe (her father is also a literary snob).

She isn’t sure exactly what to expect in Colby, but it’s definitely not what she finds: a hookup she stupidly stumbled upon, her father immersed in his novel and not paying any heed to Heidi and the ever-crying Thisbe, Heidi’s imminent breakdown, or the job she inadvertently lands, keeping the books for Heidi’s shop, Clementine’s. With the job come three girls—the other employees—who’re everything her mother stands against: girly and frivolous. Set in her snobby (and shy) ways, Auden secludes herself from the group and works diligently in the back room.

However, she can’t keep hiding away forever. She doesn’t sleep at night, and neither does this strange guy Eli she keeps seeing around. One thing—Eli’s help in placating Thisbe in the middle of the night while Heidi catches up on some sleep—leads to another—seeing Eli at a party—and they become night buddies, embarked in a quest to give Auden a second chance at the childhood she never had, one food fight at a time.

As the summer progresses, Auden aggregates herself to the trio from Clementine’s, faces the errors of her prejudice toward people influenced by her mother, and basically examines her entire life up to that point. The summer is, quite simply, a Renaissance.

Auden’s character resonated with me. Like her, I’ve changed school multiple times (seven, if memory serves) and that’s made me feel like I’ve missed some crucial school experiences and rendered me socially retarded. Granted, I hide it a lot better than she does (seriously), but the underlying insecurity is much the same. Also, her prejudice toward “fluffy” girls is something I’ve faced as well, as was her discovery of substance beyond the pink exterior. This is terribly realistic stuff for us self-absorbed teens who figure we know everything and are always the smartest in the room.

Which brings me to the characterization: Sarah Dessen is quite accomplished at possibly every facet of writing and storytelling, but I believe her true forte is her characters. Even Thisbe, Auden’s newborn half-sister, had personality. I loved how all important characters had layers upon layers that continuously surprised me, the reader. Reading this book was a peeling-the-onion experience, to be sure.

Another thing I love in Sarah is that she doesn’t write about foreign—futuristic or fantastical—worlds but rather about the one in which I reside, and yet her world building is so adept, rich, filled with detail, that I can’t help but lose myself in it. In the hands of another writer, her books would probably be half their size and probably still be good (I love her familiar-yet-foreign approach to plotting universal situations in an unique way), but wouldn’t come alive as they do with her mastery of setting me in the mood and atmosphere.

And finally, I love that this is a smart read. Aside from having smart-sounding content (Auden is, after all, an ambulant brain), the book itself is smart in that it’ll probably identify with each person in a different way. I identified with Auden’s alienation and her awakening to the people around her, but with the number of other things going on, I’m sure other parts will speak louder to other people. Her dysfunctional family situation, the unresolved divorces, the overall complicated nature of each troubling aspect of the book… Quite frankly, like with Laurie Halse Anderson, I wonder where Sarah Dessen gets the experience with with which to write the wide range of topics she covers, and with such bang. It’s downright formidable, the skill those two possess.

Now, ironically (given the book’s subject matter), I read this one during one of my insomnia episodes. In fact, it’s 7:52 a.m. as of writing this sentence, and I just had breakfast and sat down to write this review. I’ll be going to sleep soon as I finish it, quite satisfied at that, because this book turned an otherwise destined to be useless night, exciting, interesting, and memorable. (Which is more than I can say about all the others, considering I can’t even distinguish one from another…)

I have to say, though—and this is one of my only (minor) objections to something in this book—I’m not sure if insomnia is exactly what Auden has. She has a general discomfort with sleeping at night (explained in the book), but insomnia is the inability to sleep, even if given the opportunity. She just drinks loads of coffee to snap out of it. There’s a difference, and believe me, as an insomniac, I envy the people with the choice.

Anyway.

Sarah Dessen is definitely on an uphill climb of quality. She is one of those authors I am damn near worshiping and would die if I had the opportunity to interview or something. Counting this one, I’ve loved her last three books, each successively more than the other. I didn’t think she’d be able to top Lock and Key—which is second only to This Lullaby, as far as I’m concerned—anytime soon, but she did with this one. Her work—particularly at its best—is the kind that inspires me, moves me, even in the bleakest (or most boring, as was the case) of scenarios. Definitely required reading. A

Viking | 381 pages | June 11th, 2009* | Author Site | GoodReads | Amazon

*Yup, I reviewed this way early. There is a certain appeal at being the first blogger to read and review one of the most expected books of the year, and I am not passing up the chance! Thank you, J, for this!

43 comments:

Korianne said...

Awesome review! I think this is quite possibly your best review yet. I could really use an insomnia read right now. I haven't been to sleep yet either and it's 4:19 am here, and I can't sleep! Oh and I tagged you for a meme on my blog: http://koriannespeaks.blogspot.com/2009/01/bookshelf-meme.html

Adele said...

I am VERY jealous that you have the book but the review was beautifully detailed and made me lust for SD's words.

Lenore said...

Wow. That's a detailed review. I think we are all intimidated to review it after that!

Alea said...

This one sounds the most interesting of all her books! I'm very excited about this!

WannabeWriter said...

Hello. My jealousy exceeds words. The end.

Beth F said...

Terrific review. Awesome. I'll have to get this and read it with my 14-year-old niece. Sounds like a winner.

Genevieve said...

Nice review! I totally get the insomniac bit, it's 5:20 here and I'm not sure if I'm but b/c not tired or just because I'm up.

Thao said...

I love your long review. Good thing to hear this one is another great work by Sarah.

harmonybookreviews said...

Wow. I want this so much more now! SD ranks in my Top 3 authors (Just Listen is my favorite) so I'm lusting after this one.

Great review!

Amee said...

Sounds great. I still have to read Lock and Key! What's wrong with me!? lol

Shalonda said...

Oh, I am SO jealous. I love Sarah's books, and cannot wait to read this one!

Alessandra said...

I'm so jealous you got to read this already! I'm off to read the final chapter of This Lullaby, another amazing book.

BookChic said...

I am very jealous- I had NO IDEA that you had this book. Why did you hide it from me?!?!

Great review though! Glad you loved it. I'm excited to read it myself.

Anonymous said...

I am extraordinarily jealous right now.

Awesome review, I am so excited for the release!

Tempestt said...

Great review! I love Sarah's books and can't wait to read this one! :)

Kelly said...

Between this and Perfect Fifths, I am so jealous of you, I almost can't stand it.

I am sad because there is no emoticon for bitter seething. ;)

The Ravenous Reader said...

Thank you for such an amazingly detailed review that has me chomping at the bit to read this book.

Khy said...

Jealousy is now flowing through my veins. Dx

Bookworm said...

How in the world did you get an advanced copy, lucky duck?
OK. I've never read any of Sarah's books, but I need to get started. NOW. I think I'll start on Lock and Key, is it Ok to read without reading any of her other books?
This one looks amazing, I'll have to check it out. (: Great review, Steph! Now get some sleep. (:

Reader Rabbit said...

Great review :)
I can't wait to read this one.

jason said...

I'm surprised you think Dessen just keeps getting better, just because of her last four books (which are the only ones I've read), I find Just Listen by far the best, because it's the only one that deftly balances all three of the intersecting storylines and makes all of them interesting (her family, her old crowd, her new crowd). Lock and Key is second, so there's improvement from Truth and Lullaby, but I think the love interest is written sort of dully and the storyline about him seems a bit contrived and put there just to make him Relatable. Also, Truth>Lullaby; with Truth I felt it'd be better as a novella because the bulk of the book I found kind of pointless and/or boring, but the plot thread about her new crowd was interesting; with Lullaby, it was consistently nondescript.
For this book, you seem to focus on her new crowd storyline, but are the threads about her family and her old crowd (or at least talking about the people at her school, even if she apparently doesn't hang out with anyone) equally as interesting?
Great review!

Steph said...

Hey guys - thanks all for stopping by!

Jason - That's interesting. Personally, I didn't care for The Truth About Forever THAT much, but I loved This Lullaby, and then the last three (including this one).

About your question: Auden seriously had no friends. She felt uncomfortable with the ones from her previous school (Perkins Day) because they had nothing to talk about, and she moved to another one on junior year (forgot the name) where independent study was the incentive and people didn't socialize much.

There was this guy, Jason, who asked her to prom (they were vying for the top class rank, and he figured it was a nice resolution for those years of competition) but he bailed at the last minute to go to some ecological conference or something. He shows up in Colby, too, but it's not a major plot thing. Though if I do say so myself, he's a perfect asshole.

For the family thing - I chose not to touch it on my review because it's a lot more complex than "she saw it was possible to be smart and wear pink at the same time" and not so easily explained. (For the record - the pink thing doesn't come easily - like I said, ~peel the onion~.) Anyhow, her mother is the stony bitch type and her father is the quitter type, and Auden was very messed up after their divorce. She sees how he didn't change with the new baby - Thisbe - and it starts wearing her down until she snaps. (And that does indeed have repercussions. But I can't tell you what cos that would kill the plot ;D) She's also got a brother with a wild streak who gets tamed and all, which was really interesting - especially the method employed to tame him.

Anyway, all of that is explored with great detail in the book. By the end, things aren't FIXED per se, but like I said, it's a whole awakening for Auden. She matures a lot, in every possible way.

Hope that helps!

Steph

Steph Su said...

I'm way jealous that you got to read this book long before it comes out. I agree with you in near worshipping Sarah Dessen; how does she DO it? I don't know. We don't know. No one knows. We just keep reading her wonderful books.

*Heather* said...

I hate you. Of course, not honestly. Just a bit of jealousy there. I really cannot wait for this book. Sarah Dessen amazes me to no end. And this particular one looks so good!

tencentnotes said...

Okay. I'm jealous now. Can't WAIT to read this book! Sarah Dessen is one of the rare authors whose new books I look forward to MONTHS before they're scheduled to come out.

Vicky said...

I am SOOOOO excited to read this book! I bow down to Sarah Dessen. Although I didn't like Lock and Key as much as the three that came before it, (This Lullaby, The Truth About Forever, and Just Listen) she still managed to make me fall in love with the story. She is so amazing!

teenreadersgather said...

cant wait for this

Anonymous said...

That was your best review! I can't believe any book could ever be better than lock and key as that is my *favorite* book but your description of her book makes it sound very promising!

Grace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sammyjones57 said...

My eyes popped when I saw this! I started reading Dessen from the beginning and even though I'm no longer in high school - she's still one of my all time favorite authors. You're right, she just gets better and better. It blows me and away and I envy her writing ability!

And now I'm envying the crap out of you for getting your hands on a copy! So lucky! And you've got me more pumped to read it when it comes out, awesome review!

Just Listen said...

Fantastic review! I can't wait to read this novel. I am so jealous that you have. XD

TruNerd said...

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! my jealousy is beyond words! can i steal this one from you Steph??? I am dying to read it!! i PROMISE to bring it back!! im not kidding. i NEED TO READ THIS B4 I GO MENTAL! not that i already havent. i think i did when i read the end of Shadow Kiss-A Vampire Academy Novel.

Nuf' said.

Liv said...

Ooooh. This looks really good. I've read all of Dessen's books so far and am in awe of her mastery of writing good novels consistently. Awesome review! I NEED to read this the minute it comes out. :)

ali said...

Amazing review, my dear Steph! You do realise that it was tres excellente (<- I hope spelt that correctly), right? Bravo, bravo on a great review, which has made us all oh-so-very jealous now! :P

Update, update, update soon!

Staci said...

Your review is top-notch! I can't wait to read this too. Like you I worship Anderson and Dessen...and I'm old!!! I just think they're phenomenal writers!!

writemeg said...

I'll join the ranks of the insanely jealous -- I nearly jumped out of my chair when I saw this review! And I'm not going to spoil it for myself at all... while I'm sure your review is awesome, as always, I'm going to wait and read it this summer! :)

prophecygirl said...

I can't explain how jealous I am that you've read this! lol. Along with City of Glass, it's my most anticipated book release of the year.

Thanks for the brilliant review, and I know exactly what you mean about worshipping Sarah Dessen... she is beyond amazing!

violetcrush said...

I haven't read a single book by her, but considering you worship her and all I need to find one.

Laina said...

I haven't read a book by her, simply because I almost never read new books, not unless I'm reviewing them, I'm horrible that way, but this sounds good.

I know how Auden feels, though, I have that kind of sleeping issue. I can go for 15 or more hours awake and still not want to sleep. A lot of the time, I'll stay up all day until I end up crashing from pure exhaustion, because my mind tells me that I do not want to sleep, and then I can't, or by the time I do, it's 7 or 8 or 9 in the morning. Personally, I'd say that's a different type of insomnia, but that's a little bit of a pet peeve of mine, apparently.

jocelyn said...

You beat me to the review! Congrats! :-)

I had just reread This Lullaby when I read this, so I couldn't stop comparing them (and of course TL is best), but I still thought Along For The Ride was great.

Also: my computer keeps not letting me comment on your blog. I'm lucky today. It's sad.

Ronni said...

I am so envious that you got to read this book so early! :) Thanks for the review. I can't wait to read it. Sarah Dessen's my FAVORITE author ever.

Deeheartsbooks said...

Totally adding this to my TBR!!

Em said...

Sarah Dessen is a fabulous author. She just gets what it means to be a teen...siblings, pressures, crushes, everything.

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Hey! For some reason, this embedded comment form makes most people click twice before the comment is processed and published. It's not you - it's just that it's a new Blogger feature with kinks and all that. (But I adore it and don't wanna get rid of it!) I removed Captcha to make the process easier. You don't have to rewrite the comments twice; just click on SUBMIT twice and it should work. If not, email me. Thanks! -Steph