Along for the Ride

Reader: Chloe W
Age: 16
Title: Along for the Ride
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Viking
Pub Date: June 2009
Galley: Yes
Nominate for Teens’ Top 10: Yes
Did the cover reflect the contents: While Sarah Dessen's name reassured me that this book had some literary merit, I was hesitant to pick up the novel at first. The cover photo suggests a fluffy chick lit read, and considering Dessen's typical demographic, such a marketing decision makes sense. However, Along for the Ride has much more to offer than just underdeveloped young romance and cliched teenage angst. Additionally, while the main character, Auden, cannot ride a bike, I am sure her first attempts would not have her straddling the middle section of a bicycle rather than sitting on the seat itself. Auden's smarter than that, and the book's cover does not do her, or the other characters, justice.
Recommend: Yes
Convince us to read the book: The tender friendship that blossoms into romance between Eli and Auden suggests that Dessen's writing is more mature than it looks at first glance. Both of the characters exhibit wisdom beyond their years, though the weaknesses they possess tell more about their relationship than their skills. Auden, a socially inept overachiever, comes to Colby to escape her dull life, but a string of mistakes early on threatens to put a damper on her visit. Eli, a retired bike star, becomes reclusive after a tragic accident he cannot move on from. Their combined loneliness develops into a relationship founded on principles that resonated deep within me.
Compelling Aspect of the Book: Though the main characters played a large role in my enjoyment of the novel, some of the minor characters helped resolve many of the bigger issues in the novel. Auden's seemingly intellectual and mature mother can't seem to get over her petty, childish ways, and after her marriage fails, her quests to regain youth through dating her young students showcase her true vulnerabilities. Auden's deadbeat author dad comes to show how mistakes perpetually repeat themselves, as he tries his luck with another wife and another baby. The adults seem to be the ones constantly erring, while the teens make the choices that end up for the best. These minor characters come to suggest that while maturity does not immediately come with adulthood, mistakes seem to work their way out. This pseudo-catharsis comes from minor characters, which I think is really fresh, and these characters have such depth that you can empathize with them even while bemoaning their bad decisions.
Did you finish the book: Yes
Were you disappointed with the book: Though some of the minor characters were compelling, some seemed less dynamic. Hollis, Auden's nomadic brother, gets serious with a cold-hearted girl, taking over a corporate job in a life that he would never have settled for. The theme of Hollis seems to be that "everyone grows up", but his life seems colorless after he accepts what his girlfriend forces him into. Jake, Auden's first mistake, embodies the stereotypical teen jerk, and he doesn't grow from their first meeting. His role seems like a major throwaway. Inconsistencies with character themes throw the novel a bit off course, but overall, this lessens the novel's charm only very slightly.
Age Range: 14-15, 16-17
Quality: 4Q Better than most
Popularity: 4P Broad general teen appeal

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