Title: Along for the Ride
Author: Sarah Dessen
ISBN: 978067001940
Pages: 383 pages
Publisher/Date: Viking, a member of Penguin Group Inc., c2009.

Hollis’s picture frame was on the bedside table, and I picked it up, looking over the tacky blue stones. THE BEST OF TIMES. Something in these words, and his easy, smiling face, reminded me of the chatter of my old friends as they traded stories from the school year. Not about classes, or GPAs, but other stuff things that were as foreign to me as the Taj Mahal itself, gossip and boys and getting your hearts broken. They probably had a million pictures that belonged in this frame, but I didn’t have a single one.
I looked at my brother again, backpack over his shoulder. Travel certainly did provide some kind of opportunity, as well as a change of scenery. Maybe I couldn’t take off to Greece or India. But I could still go somewhere. (18)

Auden has just graduated from college and realized that she has nothing to show for her high school years except for an impeccable GPA and giving the speech at her graduation. So when the opportunity arises to spend the summer with her father, step-mother, and brand new step-sister, she impulsively accepts. She’s hoping to find something – and become someone— different before she must immerse herself in college life as the over-achieving book-obsessed shy girl. But after a rocky start with the girls at her step-mother’s store and witnessing her father travel the same distancing path with his new wife that he did with Auden’s mother, Auden starts to believe her mother’s saying that people don’t change. Will Eli, the boy who catches her eye and is hiding from the world in his own way, change her mind and herself in ways she never expected?

I’ll admit it: This is the first Sarah Dessen novel I’ve read. I know she’s been writing books for years now and has over a half-dozen books to her name. She’s been described to me as the Nicholas Sparks for teens and college women, and I guess I can see the resemblance. And I found myself enjoying it much more than I thought I would. This book is not just fluff, and it does have teen drama without being overly dramatic. Auden has a split family where neither parent is very attentive, and yes there is some drinking, but I was surprised to reflect back and not be able to pinpoint excessive swearing or violence or drug use or anything that parents find so objectionable about the “dark” young adult novels that are being published and publicized so frequently.

I think what I like best about Auden and Eli, and even the girls that Auden ends up working with is that they are so normal and yet still very multifaceted. In comparison to some of the relationships in fiction, Auden and Eli have a relatively tame but unique courtship, but that’s not to say that it’s instant connection. It’s actually a very rocky start and Auden almost gets pounded to a pulp at a party. Eli sets out to expose Auden to all the normal teenager things, like bowling, she missed out on while pushing herself so hard with her school work. In a similar way, Auden forces Eli out of his comfort zone, and they seem to be well matched as they join each other on nocturnal outings around town away from the prying eyes of their peers. It’s a refreshing spin and a great first impression to an author I’ve had no previous experience. I’ll be sure to recommend her to teen girls from now on. Although by the looks of the well-worn library copy, they probably already know about her.