3 Stars. (Contemporary YA)
Ultimately not my favourite Dessen book, but I did enjoy it as I do most other works by this author. Dessen has a way of creating characters and friendships and emotional upheavals that make a reader become so invested in the storyline. In Along for the Ride though this is some of what felt was missing. The characters seemed sort of flat compared to some of her other characters. I have gotten used to loving the odd-ball secondary characters who are unique and all their own and who eventually let the main character branch out into another part of herself, in this book though I didn't really see much of a challenge put in front of Auden to make any sort of difference in her life. She's an academic, sort of a snob thanks to her brilliant mother who tends to look down on others, she's serious and judgmental and a lot of the time I had a hard time liking Auden, let alone sympathizing with her. The lack of sympathy was especially apparent when she was in conversation with her stepmother Heidi, a new mother and suffering a slight case of postpartum. Auden was very quick to judge Heidi and it took her a while to really come around and appreciate her stepmother's sincerity and sweet ways. I felt that Auden's whole 'issue' - there is always an emotional issue the main characters face in all of Dessen's books - wasn't well constructed and I didn't fully believe that she would have been this stunted by her parent's divorce. She was different from other leading characters though in that she actually tended to express her feelings to her parents. The 'big talk' wasn't left for the climax or the end like other Dessen books, Auden faced some of the issues she had with her parents head on.
Auden's emotional hangups seemed forced and some of her actions didn't seem to jive with her personality. She does something right at the beginning of the book that seems so odd and out of place and just plain weird for a girl like Auden to do. It was random and not well explained and I kind of felt like it was only added in to add a bit of tension with the other girls she meets.
Auden's experiences with Eli, the love interest, are cute and add some fun to the book, but I've come to expect a bit more from these stories and nothing about this one was really grabbing me like some of Dessen's others have in the past.
Eli was sweet and heartfelt, but I didn't connect with him as I have with other Dessen hero's.
Now, I know I've been comparing books quite a bit, but if you have ever read more than one Dessen book you will understand that there seems to be a method, a formula if you will by which these books are written.
Always a messed up teenage girl character coming into a new town, who meets new people completely out of her scope of experience who then help to heal her wounds and set her on the path to recovery - in one way or another - there is always a somewhat outcast male lead who is confident in himself and helps the female open up and express herself in an effort to then fix her dysfunctional relationship with one or both of her parents. I don't mind the formula, I've read about 5 of Dessen's books so far and plan to read more, but this one missed the mark in a lot of ways for me.
Ultimately though, I am a Sarah Dessen fan and will continue to enjoy her books. You can't love them all equally and I definitely have my favourites in the bunch. Along for the Ride was a cute, easy and and quick read that takes you on a ride along with the main character (pun intended) as she explores her life and experiences she's missed in the summer before she heads off to university. It would be a nice summer read!