Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Along for the RideAuden is not a storegoer.  Storegoers are the people who never buy just one thing at the local gas station.  Even if they come in looking for just a stick of gum, they leave with provisions.  The storegoers are always planning for future adventures – because when you’re out having an adventures, who knows when you’re going to need a snack?  When Auden goes to the gas station, she grabs her large coffee and goes.  Why would she need to plan for adventures when all she ever does is drive through the deserted streets of Colby in the middle of the night?

When Auden’s parents started to fight, they would do it late at night when she was asleep.  So she stayed up later.  And later.  Until she wasn’t sleeping at night anymore.  Of course, it didn’t work.  Eventually they stopped trying to hide their fights, and now they’re divorced.  But Auden still stays awake through the quiet hours of the night.  At home she fills her nights at the local diner, where all the waitresses know her name.  As long as she tips on every refill of coffee, they’ll let her stay until morning.  But now that she’s staying with her dad and his new wife in Colby, Auden’s nights are spent drifting.

Of course someone comes along to change that.  And through her late-night adventures with Eli, Auden is able to discover the many things she skipped over in her lonely, academically-minded childhood – and maybe even learn to understand why you might need more than the large cup of coffee when you stop at the local gas station. 

This book is straight-up  Sarah Dessen.  And as someone who loves straight-up Sarah Dessen, I was perfectly pleased with that.  I found Auden’s slightly grumpy introvertedness very familiar – she often reminded me of myself.  She is stingy with sharing herself with other people, but over the course of the book she learns how to expose her own feelings and opinions to the people she cares about.  As Auden opens herself up, she also gains the ability to relate to the other people in her life and see beyond their surface.  This transformation is at the center of the book, and Dessen handles it deftly.  And while the romantic interest is definitely satisfying, watching Auden develop strong friendships with the other women in the book was the place where I could really feel her blossom.  I would have loved to have more glimpses into the growing relationships with her mother, stepmother, and coworkers.

While all of Dessen’s secondary characters are drawn superbly, it is the subplot about becoming a new mother that has really stuck with me.  Thisbe, Auden’s brand new baby sister, is an unstoppable crying machine.  And watching Auden’s poor overwhelmed stepmother try to handle her business and her first baby is both sad and hysterical.  It’s like a giant neon sign for all the teens reading the book: Babies Are Hard, Guys!

The most striking thing about this book are the two different that Dessen creates – Auden’s daytime world and her nighttime world are very different places.  The tiny coffeeshop in the backroom of a laundromat where there’s a new pie every day – that’s the kind of place I would stay up late for.  And it’s not only the town of Colby that tranforms in the night.  Auden’s relationship with Eli would probably not be possible in the daytime.  As Auden puts it,

Stuff that would have been weird in the bright light of day just wasn’t so much once you passed a certain hour.  It was like the dark just evened it out, somehow.  (Quoted from ARC – text may change.)

Along for the Ride on the web.

Sarah Dessen’s blog.

Sarah Dessen on the web.