Auden has spent her entire life in a world where grades, class rank and early admission clearly matter. She reads books about Buddhism. Her potential prom date canceled on her to participate in an ecology conference.
But she's taking a cue from her older brother, who's backpacking around Europe: Travel provides opportunities. She accepts her young stepmother's invitation to spend the summer before college with her and Auden's father. But her dad is busy writing his book and has no time for "hanging out and bonding, sharing a plate of onion rings and discussing literature and my future," and the new baby is colicky. Not exactly the perfect beach summer she had in mind.
Although Auden claims to have zero interest in skinny jeans, boyfriend crises and gossip, one boy intrigues her. Eli's the loner, a BMX star unintentionally playing hardest to get.
Both insomniacs, Eli and Auden meet over late-night coffee. He, and the girls who befriend her from her stepmother's trendy boutique, open up a world Auden has never experienced. She has no social skills at keg parties. Never played dodgeball, never had a food fight, never learned to ride a bike. What kind of childhood was that? One that's about to be remedied, as it turns out.
If this new novel seems slower out of the starting gate than some of Sarah Dessen's previous books, the lingo is pitch perfect and the world she creates is appealing. There are just enough mother-daughter tiffs and teen angst to keep the tension tight and her young fans interested.
Although the book's publication was timed for the summer reading bunch, Along for the Ride is more than beach fluff. Maybe Auden started out longing for adventure while faced with boredom and family upheaval. But before her summer ends, before teen readers turn the last page, neither can claim it wasn't worth the ride.
Augusta Scattergood is a writer and former librarian who lives in St. Pete Beach.