Review: Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

As you can see, I am clearly feeling better.

 It has only been two days since my last review, and I’ve been able to give you all another one. I’m not at 100% yet, but definitely over the worst, hooray! I actually would have had this out for you last night, but I decided to get out of hermit mode and went out to the movies with a few friends. We went to see Bad Moms starring Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hanh. The only thing I can say about this movie is LOL. It was hilarious. Although I am not a mother yet, I was still able to enjoy the movie and relate to some of the characters, so I urge all of you ladies to watch it (may not be appropriate for teens though – sex, drugs, alcohol, crude language). It is definitely a chick flick though, so gentlemen, you might want to skip this unless you absolutely love the genre. I loved the cast, especially Jay Hernandez. In the words of Sarah Dessen, sa-woooon! I’ve been secretly in love with him since Crazy/Beautiful came out in my teens, shh don’t tell (sorry fiancé).

On another note, there have been other recent developments! My monkey (fiancé) and I might have a new addition to our family, hopefully! We’ve put in an application to adopt a dog. I’m not going to say much more lest I get my hopes up too much, so please keep all of your fingers (and toes!) crossed for us! Anyway, speaking of family, let’s get started.

Along for the Ride

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Auden has never had the opportunity to be a child. After her parents had had enough with kids with their firstborn son Hollis, Auden’s always expected to be more mature, to be grown up. The same was expected when dealing through her parent’s divorce, and when her father remarried. So after her half-sister Thisbe is born and her new step-mom Heidi invites Auden over for the summer before she starts college, Auden is surprised to find herself saying yes. Yes to a summer of new possibilities and for the ride of a liftetime.

(Dessen, 2009)

My Thoughts

What I like about Sarah Dessen is the time and attention she takes to properly research a topic. All of her novels cover different themes and topics, and you cannot honestly expect her to know all of this stuff purely out of personal knowledge. You can tell she has meticulously gone over all the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder, or in the case of Along for the Ride, what it takes to properly teach someone how to ride a bike. Now, it could just be an assumption on my part, she could have lived through all of these problems herself, how would I know? Well, if that’s the case, she has sure lived through a lot and that makes me respect her even more than I already do. On the other hand, if this is all just hard work and research, I hold her in a high esteem all the same. Sure, maybe she isn’t an expert on all of these topics, but the fact that she took the time to at least try to get all of her stories to make sense, is what’s incredible. In Along for the Ride, when Adam is teaching Auden how to learn to ride a back, the techniques he discusses and goes through with her, so that she can love to learn how to ride, are not what one who is not an expert on the matter would think of. All I can say is that I was impressed.

What really struck a chord in me are the themes of divorce, and Auden’s struggle with her parents. Okay, time for a real heart to heart. My parents were legally separated when I was three, but only formally divorced about three years ago. So, for a little over two decades, they were never completely out of each others’ lives. Now, with the divorce finalized, there seems to have been some tension released, but before then? I was Auden, in the middle. Trying to be the perfect daughter but never completely fitting in that role. I too, remember the constant struggle, agreeing with one parent and then being labelled “on their side”. Auden’s mother, although different from mine, really reminded me of my mother, who has never completely gotten over my father’s failures as a husband, and as a father. Her father also reminded me of my father, sweeping problems under a rug and avoiding them instead of facing them head on. Which, in the same way, is another important theme of the story.

Avoidance seems to be a recurring problem with many characters throughout the book. For Auden and her parents, it’s their family problems, for Eli, it’s his grief after his loss of Abe and returning to biking, for Adam, it’s telling Maggie how he feels. Rather than face uncomfortable situations and/or their feelings, they all play ostrich with their heads in the sand, rather instead of dealing with them. I really felt for these characters. It’s scary to not know what’s coming. I personally like to be in control, and when situations are out of my control? Cue the anxiety and uncertainty. But, as Dessen points out, that’s life. Things may not always turn out the way you want them to, you won’t know until you put yourself out there, and you can’t control everything. This is really a story of learning to overcome your fear of the unknown and just “enjoying the ride”.

Another obvious topic is welcoming a new baby into the family. You can clearly tell Dessen is writing from experience when describing Heidi’s state while caring for her newborn baby. In the “extras” found at the end of the story, you find out Dessen wrote Along for the Ride while she was pregnant and after she gave birth to her daughter. The sleepless nights, the stress over trying to find out why your baby is crying, the feelings of utter helplessness, all symptoms felt by mother’s caring for their first child. I remember when my stepmother gave birth to my brother. I was often in Auden’s place, trying to step in to help, seeing that my stepmom had really had enough. My stepmom was lucky she had my dad, however. Unlike Auden’s father, my dad has always been very involved in taking care of his two youngest, having missed out with my other sister and I. I remember the only thing that would make my brother calm down and fall asleep as a baby was The Sound of Music. My dad would rock him along to the sounds of Do-Re-Mi and Edelweiss, on repeat for hours. As a result, I know the movie backwards and forwards, like the back of my hand (I’ve become quite an expert).

The story also deals, in a small way, with loss. Unlike in the Truth About Forever, that deals with the loss of a parent, Along for the Ride deals with the loss of a friend. Eli’s bff Abe has passed away in a car crash, in which he was driving, and it has changed him. I spoke a lot about grief and what it’s like to lose someone in my review of the Truth About Forever, so I won’t go into too much detail here. However, I recently went to the funeral of one of my fiancé’s friends who lost her battle to cancer. It was very hard to see him and others mourn the loss of someone who was both so young and so loved. Like Abe, she too had this vibrancy too her, could make a room light up and laugh when she was around. So, reading about Abe pulled quite a few of my heart strings. Sorry for the small spoiler (it’s not that big of a deal though, I promise).

This is what I love about Sarah Dessen though. Her books are relatable. Every story line can somehow apply to someone who’s reading it, in some way, even if just in small part. There’s always some moral or lesson to learn, but not in an overbearing kind of way. She writes in a way that makes you feel as if you’re reading about yourself, bares your secrets to the world, and comforts you as a close friend. Unfortunately, I have only two books left until the end of my journey. It’ll be incredibly bittersweet.

Sincerely,
The Struggling Librarian

References
Dessen, S. (2009). Along for the ride. New York: Viking.
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