Have you ever wondered what’s happening in your neighborhood when most people are asleep? Popular teen novelist Sarah Dessen has, especially after recently becoming a mother and seeing lots more of those wee hours than she used to. In Along for the Ride, Dessen vividly imagines the very different, but intersecting, lives of two of those late-night denizens.
Perpetually high-achieving Auden West has been an insomniac ever since her parents’ divorce. At first, she’s planning to spend the sleepless nights of the summer after senior year getting a jump on her college reading list and spending time with her high-powered academic mother. But somewhere between econ and calc, the invitation from her father and stepmother to spend the summer with them and their infant daughter starts to seem more attractive, and Auden finds herself relocating to their small beach town, Colby, on a whim.
Her stepmother, bubbly Heidi, is nothing like Auden’s mom, and life in Colby bears little resemblance to what she’s left behind. One thing hasn’t changed, though—she still can’t sleep. In Colby, however, sleepless nights can mean beach parties, cute boys and late-night sessions with the girls who work at Heidi’s trendy beachfront store. And they can mean Eli, a talented but stoic former bike jumper who refuses to talk with anyone except Auden. Auden helps Eli get beyond his tragic past, while Eli helps Auden rediscover the childhood she missed while she was trying to be the perfect student.
One of those things Auden never experienced was learning to ride a bike. The images of falling off and getting back on (both of which Auden does a lot) serve as metaphors for starting over: “Given the chance for a real do-over, another way around,” Auden reflects, “who would say no?” Along for the Ride’s striking imagery of jumping and landing also reflects Auden’s hard-won ability to let go, to be free, to find her own way, even if it’s not as smooth or perfect a road as she had always planned. Her journey will speak to mothers, daughters and anyone who’s ever needed a second, or even a third, chance to get things right.
Norah Piehl is a writer and editor who lives near Boston.