Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Along for the Ride--Sarah Dessen

You might call what Auden has a sleeping disorder, or you might call it insomnia. Whatever it is, it's been years since Auden slept at night. It all started when her parents starting fighting daily. It was a habit she began to prevent the fighting (thinking that if she stayed up, they wouldn't fight) and that continued past their divorce. She lives with her mom in Lakeview, while her brother travels through Europe and her father lives in the charming beach town Colby with his new wife and baby. But the summer before she goes off to the nicest college in North Carolina, she's going to live in Colby.

All she plans to do is stay in the house and prepare for her college courses--especially Econ. However, when Heidi, her stepmom, offers her a job in her clothes boutique, Auden is suddenly dumped into teenage life. She never experienced that on her own, never had a real childhood, as she was too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. When she meets Eli, however, that all changes. To the other teens in Colby, Eli is a quiet, sad guy mourning the loss of his best friend. But he's also an insomniac which allows for Auden to see the real Eli as he introduces her to all the things you can do in the middle of the night, and takes her on her Quest for childhood.

Slowly, Auden realizes there's more to everyone than there appears to be on first sight. Even her mother, whom she's known all her life, has another side that Auden has never seen. Her brother Hollis is a completely different person than she once knew. And her father is so drastically different. He's someone she doesn't recall existing before, and all she needed was to see him with his new wife and daughter to realize he's not the best father, and never has been.

My first instinct, when nearing the end of the book, was to say that I felt nothing for it. It neither disappointed nor impressed me. But then, when trying to explain this to Caroline, I figured out exactly what I was trying to say. It didn't have the impact a great novel usually does. It didn't make me sad to see it end. I wasn't overjoyed, by any means, but I wasn't upset that I turned the last page and closed the pink polka-dotted back cover.

Auden is a great narrator and tells the story well, but for being the main character, she's just not strong enough. I mean, let's face it--she's no Remy. And I don't mean to compare two Dessen books (because I prefer to judge a book by what it consists of, not by what another book is), but it's true. She's not a stick-up-for-herself kind of girl. She bends to others when her heart is stronger than that. You can tell she has the power to stand up and speak for herself, but she doesn't. Besides that, though, it doesn't feel like her story. She tells it well, and she's in the center of it all, but more of what happens seems like it belongs to the other characters, even though it really is her story. Her narrative allows Dessen to make her point that all people aren't what they first appear to be, and there is always something more to them, but it would do just as well to spin the story a bit and give Auden a larger part in it all. She seems like a bystander in this crazy, mixed up world, when really, she's the heart of it all.

Despite all this, Auden is completely relatable. To me, at least. While everyone in high school doesn't experience the academic and lose the social, it is easier to identify with that than a character that is fully social, and less academic. It's a blatant stab at self-conciousness that everyone experiences, if not in the full amount that Auden does. She's completely aware of her bumbling ways and not falsely confident, as many YA narrators can be. This is surely Dessen's strong point: Creating a narrator that can be related to by many. And even if, by some odd chance, the reader doesn't identify in some way to Auden, they have many well-developed characters to choose from. No name is thrown about lightly in this book (with the exclusion of some necessary minor characters that even have a little interesting story themselves, if you look hard enough).

Plus, it's a huge help that Eli makes me squeal like a little girl. I mean, SA-WOON! He's not present through many of the scenes, but when he is, he just...has a commanding presence. He's not loud, not angry, and not exciting (in that caught-in-the-moment way), but his personality is huge. You can feel his pain and guilt, but also how he has moved on and is happy again. He has all these feelings mixed up in one massive ball of amazing-ness. And I like how he's very Norman (for fellow Dessen fans who have read Keeping the Moon) in the way that he's not the leading man throughout the book. Auden doesn't fall for him wholeheartedly and their romance isn't played up to be the largest part of the book. She has other options and she goes for them. He's not introduced on the first page and her boyfriend all the way throught the last. It's a progressive thing.

I, of course seeing as it was written by Sarah Dessen, read this novel like a speedy reading demon, but it still lasts, if you know what I mean. I haven't thought about it much since setting it back on my shelf, and I haven't wondered what happens next, but everytime I do think of it now, I feel a bit of nostalgia. It's one of those stories that feels like a personal memory, and I like that.

A 3.98 out of 5 for this one (I can't bring myself to give it a three point anything, really, because that three just holds so much weight, but I don't want to give it quite as high as a four, either. So this was my best compromise.)


P.S. For those of you that have read all the other Sarah Dessen books, I rate this one after Just Listen, This Lullaby, and The Truth About Forever, but before the others. It's about fourth on my list (and only barely better than Lock and Key. Almost tied with it, actually.)

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