Publishing Date: June 2009
Genre: young adult
It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.
A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend.
Ever since her parents’ divorce, Auden can’t sleep at night. She spends her night hours in 24-hour diners working ahead in school, focusing solely on her academics and making her professor mother proud. But when her step-mother Heidi invites her over for the summer before college, Auden decides to take a chance and see what change can do for her. She meets girls who surprise her with their intellectual depth — despite being into “girly things” — and runs into Eli, a fellow insomniac, on her nighttime strolls. With their help and guidance, Auden begins a quest to experience life a new way: living it through mistakes rather than perfect grades.
Dessen has such skill in turning what could potentially be a light beach read into something exquisite, remarkable, and touching. Her books follow a similar formula: girl is different from others in some form, experiences a summer different from others, something happens to make her grow into herself, and there’s a boy in the mix. As simple as that is, each of her stories are vastly different, and every character is full of so much potential that is completely achieved by the end of the book.
Auden is a perfectionist and an academic, socially outcast from everyone — but she likes it that way. Emotions are messy, and from her experience emotions are never good. Visiting her dad and Heidi, with their newborn Isby (Thisbe, though Heidi wanted to name her Isabel), awaken Auden to a whole new world she never experienced, or thought she could experience positively. She realizes people are not one-dimensional, what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Her new friend Maggie is the perfect example: Maggie knows everything about jeans, make-up, and fashion, but she also has good grades and will be going to the same prestigious college as Auden and loves to ride bikes and do jump tricks. Maggie came off as a girly girl, but Auden soon discovered the tomboy side to Maggie, and then the intellectual side. No one is simply a slacker, an academic, a boyish boy, a girlish girl. People are complex.
Eli is a key character in Along for the Ride, as he not only helps Auden discover the childhood she never had, but opens her up to a whole new outlook on life. She in turn helps him overcome his grief and guilt over the loss of his best friend. By simply living life in the night hours, the two develop a special bond of give-and-take, sharing, and equality without the emotional turmoil Auden so easily equates to relationships.
Dessen understands her audience. Summer is the perfect time for change and self-discovery. There is so much potential in those few weeks for a person to grow, to find love and friendship, to develop a new hobby or talent. Once again, Dessen accomplishes all of this in another great book.