The summer before she starts college, overachiever Auden West makes the unexpected decision to spend her vacation with her father, stepmother Heidi and newborn baby sister Thisbe in their beachside town of Colby. Since her parents’ divorce two years ago, Auden has thrown herself completely into education and ignored any pull at having a social life. Without friends and tired of trying to get the attention of her intense mother, a well-respected college professor, Auden decides to get on “beach time.”
But any hope she’d had of spending time with her father — a once-successful novelist — are thwarted as Robert West holes himself up in his office daily, trying to grind out chapters of a new book which will catapult him back into literary stardom. And there’s another problem bringing down the walls of the West beach home: baby Thisbe just can’t stop screaming. Ever. Overworked, exhausted and at her wit’s end, Heidi comes to rely upon Auden for assistance in navigating the troubled waters of new motherhood and a tense relationship with Auden’s dad. She can only do so much, though — and when she meets Eli, a fellow insomniac who also wanders the town’s sleepy streets late at night, Auden begins to see just how much she have missed while spending her life trying (in vain) to gain her parents’ approval and attention.
What I loved about Along For The Ride — and all of Dessen’s works — is her uncanny ability to blend family stories with romance, friendship and, in many cases, a larger “social issue.” In this novel we’re talking about the children of divorce — and I think she explores that well without it ever becoming treacly. For me, Dessen’s works feature characters about as authentic as they come. I loved watching Auden change, trying more and more of what she never thought she could do, or would be interested in — and watching her friendships develop with Maggie, Leah and Esther. Life with Eli seemed very real, too, and though I knew ultimately what would probably work out between them, I was still excited to get there. The novel didn’t focus exclusively on family dynamics — nor did it talk about the love interest nonstop. Everything was in balance, producing a fun, thoughtful read.
While I have to admit that Along For The Ride lacked the emotional resonance of some of Dessen’s other works — like Just Listen, my personal favorite — I read it very quickly and really felt for many of the characters, especially Heidi. And the ending was perfect! Definitely recommend her work to anyone looking for a great read with very memorable characters.
4 out of 5!