Review: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Sorry guys

I feel like I’ve failed you again. I’m starting to think that “a little something everyday” might be a little difficult. I’ve been replacing my boss while she is away on vacation, so I’ve been working a lot more than expected. I don’t know about you, but these past few weeks have been absolutely brutal for me. I’m still fighting this awful cold and my body feels completely worn out. I have three days off coming up next week, and I seriously cannot wait. So, to say that I struggled with this review is a little bit of an understatement. well, here goes.

I would like to make a little addendum to my previous review. The wonderful Jennifer at Wood Elf Adventures mentioned a topic I did not cover in my review, and I must admit, I feel like a complete dufus for not discussing it. One of the glaringly obvious themes in Just Listen is music as a form of escape. Like I mentioned to Jennifer, music has always been a go-to for me when I’ve been struggling, especially when I was a teenager. Has it ever happened to you, while listening to a song, you feel as if the lyrics seem to be talking about your whole life in that moment? As a teen, I was horribly confused with life in general, I couldn’t understand my place in the world, and often found solace in My Chemical Romance, The Used, Underoath, Hawthorne Heights and Anberlin, among others (I know, I was sooooo emo). I found I could really relate with Owen, in that those moments of quiet feel so eerie to me, and I just need to fill them with noise. Music was my therapy, my way to express what I felt inside, which I felt I could not say out loud. Anyway, I felt as if this needed to be said. Now onto Lock and Key.

Lock and Key

When her mom abandons her, Ruby thinks she is doing just fine on her own. Then Social Services come and take her to live with her sister Cora, whom she hasn’t seen in 10 years. Now Ruby must struggle with fitting into a life she didn’t want or expect, while still hanging on to the life she left behind.

(Dessen, 2008)

My thoughts

What is probably the most obvious theme in the story, is family, and Ruby struggles with this concept throughout the entire novel. This struggle is first initiated when she is given the assignment to figure out the meaning of family for her English class. She is tasked with asking those around her their definitions, and must formulate her own concept by the end. I thought it was interesting to see what the other characters saw as “family”, and felt I could relate to every definition. However, Cora’s definition is what stuck with me the most:

Family isn’t supposed to be static or set. People marry in, divorce out. They’re born, they die. It’s always evolving, turning into something else.

(Dessen, 2008, p. 287)

Dessen teaches us, that family isn’t a fixed concept, it is as fluid as life itself. Who we see as family one day, could possibly not be the next. Family is what we make it, who we surround ourselves with, and who help us throughout our journeys in life.

In the same vein, another key concept in Lock and Key is accepting help from others. Many characters throughout the novel, primarily Ruby, struggle with accepting help, and being okay with doing so. Dessen emphasizes that accepting help is not about being dependent on people, but is a form of strength in itself. It is so much harder to swallow pride and accept help, than it is to struggle alone. Taking this concept even further, Dessen explores the relationship between giving and accepting help, of being “in debt” to others. One of the most important lessons Ruby learns is that accepting help does not necessarily put you into another person’s debt. By accepting help, you are not obliged to reciprocate in some fashion to the person who is helping. Rather, it is wanting to help because you can, because you care about the other person, without expecting something in return. You help friends, you help those you consider family, because you want to, not because you have to.

One person who I feel really embodied this concept was Jamie. He probably has to be my favourite character in this story. Always optimistic, generous, and kind, he accepts Ruby immediately into the family as if she has always belonged. Surprising to Ruby is the amount of concern Jamie constantly shows for her welfare, such as the interest he pays in her applying to college. Although new to her life, he is genuine in his feelings towards her as a sister. His unending enthusiasm for holidays and wanting to make up for all the family holidays Cora never had is also extremely endearing. Dessen portrays him as the definition of a decent man, you can’t help but love him.

Without giving anything away, what was difficult to read was Nate’s struggle. Nate has a secret that he masks with helping other out, going above and beyond to save the day. While underneath, he is living through something terrible. Unfortunately, I could relate with Nate’s predicament, having lived through a similar situation as an adolescent. Again, what Dessen tries to tell us, is that it is not noble to suffer in silence. If we are unable to stand up for ourselves, sometimes it is necessary to seek the help and comfort of others, and there is no shame in doing so.

To change the topic, what I like about Sarah Dessen’s books is that they can offer differing and unique perspectives on the world she has created. In my last review, I mentioned that Dessen likes to have her characters make cameo appearances or there are recurrent various locations. Although the locations are the same, the perspective on them can be a little different. For example, Perkins Day and Jackson are schools often mentioned. In Just Listen, Jackson is just an ordinary high school that Annabel goes to, whereas in Lock and Key, Ruby talks about Jackson High as if it a complete dump, filled with delinquents. In the same vein, when you read about Macy and Wes’ visit at the World of Waffles in The Truth About Forever, the highlight is the waffles and the smell of her maple pencil. On the other hand, with Anabel and Owen go the Waffle House in Just Listen, the focus is on the overpowering smell of bacon. I don’t know if you’ve caught on this as well, or if you feel the same way, but I think it was something neat to mention.

Overall, Lock and Key was wonderful. In her usual style, it is simply written in a language teens relate to, yet it is powerful in its messages. I have not yet found a book by Sarah Dessen that I haven’t liked and that I wouldn’t recommend to others, and the same can be said of this one. Although I am very near the end of my *summer of Sarah Dessen*,  I can’t say that I’m not excited to read her next book.


The Struggling Librarian


Dessen, S. (2008). Lock and key. New York: Viking.

3 thoughts on “Review: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

  1. It has been a while since I read this one so it is nice to see how you sum up the story. I love reading your reviews! You have such a talent at picking up the important bits of the story. I hope your cold goes away soon! Being sick is the worst.

    Liked by 1 person

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