Guys, this was a good one. I LOVED Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever and so promptly went out and bought practically every other book she’s written and have started making my way through them. I have decided to treat Dessen’s books like Charlie treats Wonka chocolate – something to be savoured and not to be rushed through (this was also how I approached the Jessica Darling series). I saved Along for the Ride for my four hour train ride back from Newcastle, finishing it about half an hour before I got home.
Along for the Ride is about Auden (named after one of my favourite poets, W.H. Auden). It’s the summer before college and she’s preparing to spend it the way she spends all the others: alone, studying and preparing for life as an adult, which she seems already made for. Auden’s parents are not that long divorced and her father has just had a new baby. On a spur of the moment decision, Auden decides to change her summer plans and heads off to stay with her dad by the beach. When she arrives, she finds her dad holed up in his office, working on his 10-years in the making second novel (echoes of I Capture the Castle), a stressed step-mother (Heidi) and grizzly new-born sister, Thisbe. Helping out at Heidi’s store on the beach front, Auden starts to make some new friends her own age, meets the enigmatic Eli, and begins change her mind out how her future is supposed to be.
Along for the Ride felt very personal to me for a variety of reasons, but I really connected to Auden’s need for order and quiet and balance. Like Macy in The Truth About Forever (there’s even a cross-over, with the loathsome Jason appearing in both books), Auden retreats into patterns and routines to feel secure. Her routines are a little left of centre; staying up all night and sleeping in the day, but they balance her. I had a similar routine as a student when I couldn’t sleep at night for months and months and Dessen’s descriptions of how it feels to be the only person up in a world full of sleep felt very true to life.
I loved the varying depictions of womanhood in the novel. Dessen presents us with an array of complicated female characters who all stand alone and defy stereotyping. My favourite amongst these (aside from Auden!) was Maggie, who was girly, super smart and tough as nails. Her easy going attitude and desire to simply be herself, no matter what anyone else might say, was inspiring. I also liked the way the book examined the way we make assumptions based on first impressions. Auden does a lot of book-by-cover-judging and it was refreshing to see just how often she was completely wrong.
I really enjoyed Auden’s relationship with Thisbe and how quickly their bond is formed. Similarly, there is a strong connection forged with Eli from their first meeting and it was lovely to watch them grow that connection into something else. Eli’s own struggles felt authentic and I appreciated the way he both accepted and challenged Auden, pushing her towards being braver and asking for what she really wanted.
Like The Truth About Forever and That Summer, Along for the Ride is about a young woman growing up, understanding herself and finding a way to be courageous in life. That all three books are set across the summer doesn’t surprise me; there’s something about that summer break when you’re young that makes you feel like anything is possible. Some of my best memories in life have occurred during the summer and Along for the Ride was the perfect way to kick off this one. Highly recommended!