Auden West has the opportunity to spend the summer at the beach, an opportunity probably most teens would jump at. Auden, however, isn’t most teens. She hasn’t had a boyfriend, or gone to prom, or even had many close girlfriends, for that matter. Her parents are academics: her mother is an elitist professor who looks down her nose at people who waste their time on trivial matters, and especially at Auden’s father’s new wife, who owns a store that sells all kinds of girly-girl merchandise and is decorated primarily in pink. Her father teaches college, as well, and is a writer who some years before won a prestigious writing award. And now, even though he is a new father again, all of his time is focused on working on his new, comeback, novel.
When Auden first arrives at her father’s beach cottage, she is sure she’s made a mistake. She just doesn’t fit in in the environment of fun summer activities, and with the teens who are all participating in those activities. And she certainly doesn’t feel comfortable at her dad’s house, with a stepmother who is so different (think “pink”) and with a father who is even more self-centered than she remembered.
But she manages to get pulled into the social life there, bit by bit. She isn’t very comfortable with being out of her element, and only very slowly develops friendships, and starts spending time with a guy, Eli, who has some issues of his own to work through. But she is mostly pleasantly surprised to have friends and to have the opportunity to do some things she never got the chance to do when she was young, like riding a bike.
Sarah Dessen’s novel does follow a pretty familiar formula, but she manages to breathe new life into it. Auden is a complex, real character, surrounded by characters who are as equally well developed and true to life. They seem to be one-dimensional on the outside, but eventually they at least have the opportunity not only to surprise Auden the character, but to remind us as readers that people aren’t usually just cut-and-dried what they seem on the surface. Along for the Ride is a fairly simple story, sure, but it feels right and true and satisfying, thanks to Dessen’s deft touch.
Rated: Moderate (for young adults; probably more like a mild for adults). There are roughly 20 uses of moderate language and vulgarity, and less than that of mild language. The 18- to 20-year-old characters who populate the book do a fair amount of partying/hanging out where they drink their fair share of beer. References to sex are quite mild.