For the final day of A Very Sarah Dessen Holiday, I’m going to talk about another severely underrated Dessen book—Along for the Ride. This book in particular has gotten a lot of flack for being a regurgitation of many of the earlier Dessen books, but I think it has a lot of its own merits. Plus, remember Jason, Macy’s tone-deaf ex-boyfriend in The Truth About Forever? He’s back!
Auden doesn’t sleep at night. She hasn’t since her parents started fighting, staying up until all hours doing homework and reading. Now she is a new high school graduate and is tired of her professor mother’s ridiculous parties and stuffy house. Auden decides to spend the summer in Colby, the North Carolina beach town where her father now lives with his new wife. Her insomnia continues, and she starts exploring Colby at night, which is where she truly meets Eli, another insomniac. Eli shows Auden what Colby is really like after hours, and they help each other come out of their shells and work through their pasts.
After Lock and Key, this one is a little more lighthearted, I’ll admit. But it’s also about a slightly older character (a high school graduate), and Auden’s first experience in Colby is a one-night stand with Jake, Eli’s younger brother and the ex-boyfriend of one of the girls who become Auden’s friends. Yeah, Colby is that sort of small town. So, needless to say, Auden’s time in Colby doesn’t start off on the right foot. But it’s all uphill from there.
Okay, I teased Jason, so I’ll start there. Jason was supposed to be Auden’s prom date for their senior year of high school, but he bailed at the last minute. He shows up in Colby for some pre-college leadership conference nonsense and asks Auden to the Beach Bash, the annual event that Auden’s stepmother throws at the end of each summer. But guess what? Spoiler—Jason is still jerk. He does shoutout to Macy and Wes in this book though, which I absolutely loved—he calls Wes a “delinquent welder with a tattoo.” Charming, isn’t he? Jason serves one singular purpose in this book—to represent Auden in the past. She was just like him in many ways, but she grows into a more well-rounded person in Colby. It scares her at first, and that affects her relationship with Eli, but she eventually realizes it’s for the best. Speaking of Eli—we’ve got to talk about Eli.
Eli is potentially my favorite love interest in any Sarah Dessen book. He’s probably why I enjoy this book so much, even though it follows the same predictability of many of Dessen’s other books. Eli is a surprise. That’s all I can say. He’s teased in the first quarter of the book or so as this dark soul, this person who has nothing left, this shell of a human being. He used to compete in BMX-type competitions, and then his best friend was killed in a car wreck on the way home from one, and everyone says that Eli hasn’t been on a bike since. So Auden doesn’t know what to do when they start talking at a party, when she gets chewed out by his ex-girlfriend for trying to steal her man. They keep meeting up, accidentally at first, and then on purpose. It’s pretty clear that Eli really only talks to Auden, and it’s likely because she’s from somewhere else—she doesn’t look at him with pity in her eyes. He’s just another person to her, and that’s what he needed. Sure, this book is about Auden’s growth, but it’s also about Eli’s. And Eli’s growth is a lot more interesting to me, because he’s seen real tragedy. His growth comes out of grief. He needed Auden in his life if only to show the rest of the town that he wasn’t going to shatter, even though he was hurting. I LOVE that kind of complex character, written so simply that you almost don’t realize what you’re reading.
And then there is Auden herself. She never had a childhood. She doesn’t know how to ride a bike. Her growth is also completely necessary, but it’s a lot more fun to watch Eli grow while he tries to help Auden be a kid. Auden’s story is also wrapped up with her parents, her stepmother, the new baby that her stepmom and dad had in the late spring. The family dynamics at play in this book are fascinating, as are the friendships between the girls in the story. All of Dessen’s books have excellent secondary characters, but the ones in this book are some of my absolute favorites. You can talk about how formulaic Dessen’s books can be all you want, but to me, they’re each different enough to work.
Along for the Ride is available where books are sold. Sarah Dessen is also the author of eleven other books, including The Truth About Forever, Just Listen, Saint Anything, and Lock and Key. Her newest, Once and for All, is due out in June 2017.