In Sarah Dessen’s 2009 novel Along for the Ride, we follow Auden, a young girl just graduating high school, who, rather than making friends and going out, spent an inordinate amount of time studying and maintaining her good grades. While this has allowed her to be accepted to a very reputable university, it did cut her off from the normal childhood experiences that most kids go through. What’s more, a very bitter divorce has left her two parents in separate places, with people that Auden can’t stand, and she’s torn between her distant father and her hyper-strict, feminist mother. These prospects alone make the upcoming summer before graduation something that Auden dreads, and on top of all that, she simply cannot sleep.
However, what she assumes will be a summer of sleepless boredom in Colby turns into a time of self-discovery and breaking out of her shell. Between the fun, frivolous girls at the bookstore where she works and the brooding fellow insomniac Eli, she begins to learn a lot more about herself. She learns that, despite what her mother says, you can have fun and be yourself without giving up all that makes you a woman.
Dessen’s book tread ground that many other young adult novels tend to (the shy, prissy young woman learning to be more carefree and take a chance), but the way in which it was written is extremely refreshing – the language is concise and descriptive without being overly verbose, and the character conflicts are believable, if a little trite at times. The central relationship, that of Auden and Eli, starts off sufficiently slow and picks up the pace, subsequently faltering when it matters the most, which is the thing that really teaches Auden that she has a lot more to learn about life than can be learned in a textbook.
All in all, it ends in a typical young adult book fashion: the summer ends, just like it always does, and she must leave her parents and friends behind to start college – however, in the process, she has found out how best to break away from her parents’ separate ideologies, confront the latent issues she has about their divorce, and find out who she is and what she wants, which is a powerful message to send to any young woman going through that set of circumstances.