Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride creates Utopian escape

Skyler Thompson

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

     Having written eight books previously, Along for the Ride, her ninth novel, was a piece of cake for Sarah Dessen. No, really. She even wrote on her website,, of the fantastic experience she had writing the young adult novel: “Some books are incredibly hard to write. Most are, actually. But this one, for me, was a little escape once in a while, and I was more grateful for it than I expected.”

     Dessen said inspiration came when she was up in the wee hours of the night with her newborn daughter. She would look out the window and see a light in the distance, and wonder what her neighbors were doing up at that hour.

     Along for the Ride is about recent high school graduate Auden West. She’s smart, brilliant even. Her mother is head of the English department at a large university, and her father a successful novelist. She was the “little adult,” and had listened to debates about literature and had heard curse words since the age of four. Being so focused on academia, Auden missed out on childhood. No pillow fights, sleepovers, or gossip. She doesn’t even know how to ride a bike.

     Auden is dull and takes everything literally, but makes a spontaneous decision to go to her father’s house in the small beach town of Colby, sick of her mother throwing parties every night for her graduate students, most of whom are adoring males. There was a catch to being with her father for eight weeks, though; he had recently gotten married to Heidi, a spunky twenty-six year old who is “extraneous, overblown, exuberant. And annoying.” She is also pregnant, and he is finishing a novel he had been working on for ten years.

     Heidi and Auden could not have been more different, and neither could Auden and the three girls who worked at Heidi’s boutique, Clementine’s. They gossiped, wore pink, and partied. Auden studied, studied, and studied. But somehow, through their differences, and a mistake Auden makes with one of the girls’ ex-boyfriend, Jake, there comes a friendship.

     They teach Auden about the secret world of girls, and then Eli, a fellow insomniac (Auden hadn’t slept since her parents’ divorce), intrigues her. They talk about their childhood, the contrast stark between them, and Eli decides to take Auden on a quest: to give her the childhood she never had.

     With any Sarah Dessen book, there will always be a romantic relationship. But as one reads more and gets deeper into the story, one realizes that Dessen has many more underlying themes. Her novels are more about family and friends, and each book has believable teens who have real issues.

     There is teenage pregnancy, an abusive relationship, drug problems, abandonment, death of a parent, and the most pervasive theme in this novel would have to be self-identity. All the teenagers in this novel are relatable, and with Dessen’s wonderful and pitch-perfect style, readers will get lost in a world they will never want to leave.

     Dessen’s characters have flaws and real personalities and are easy to get to know; they feel like a friend and empathy is felt for them. With sharp imagery, the scenery comes to life, and the bustling town of Colby feels like a place readers have visited. The dialogue moves fast, and it is hard for readers to leave the charming beach town. Generally, it takes a day to read. Maybe two. Why would a reader want to leave such a Utopian world?

     Hereford students could easily connect with Auden’s drive to be at the top. With many students taking at least one AP class, and with Juniors and Seniors caught up in planning for their future, they forget that they are only a teenager once. Are they enjoying the four years they have in high school, with friends and having a social life?