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Along for the Ride and Bad Girls Don’t Die (finally)

July 14, 2009

(These two books don’t really have much in common, other than I read them, uh, over a month ago and am only getting around to blogging about them now.)

Along for the Ride by Sarah DessenWhen I first finished Sarah Dessen‘s Along for the Ride, my initial reaction was that it was my second favorite Dessen book, after Just Listen. But the more I thought about it, the more problems I had with it.

(Actually, now that I think about it, Along for the Ride and Bad Girls Don’t Die do have something in common: how much you enjoy both books may depend on how much nitpicking you do. In the case of Along for the Ride, my nitpicking had a negative effect on my enjoyment of the book. Bad Girls Don’t Die, on the other hand, I enjoyed in spite of my questions and quibbles, even one month after I finished reading it.)

But back to Along for the Ride.

It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.

A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend.

This is classic This Lullaby/The Truth About Forever/Just Listen Dessen. If you’ve read these three books, you know what to expect here. Dessen definitely delivers as far as the narration, character building, and ups and downs of the important relationships are concerned. And I’m really not sure what else to say about these particular things. Yes, the story may be predictable and it follows the Dessen formula, but I don’t see this as a bad thing at all. However she does it, it still works. Along for the Ride is a compelling, enjoyable book that manages to feel fresh and familiar.

I have to say, I really liked that Auden was a loner in high school by choice and personality. So often in YA books, it seems like when a main character is a loner (you know, as opposed to the mysterious, romantic interest loner), it’s because they’re an outcast, but that’s not the case here. Auden’s parents expected her to be mature and focus on academics, and that’s what she did. I also liked the way Dessen developed Auden’s parents, whom I did not like *at all*. But they were portrayed in such a way that the reader can understand why they acted the way they did, even if it made them, particularly Auden’s father, bad parents. I’m actually getting upset as I write this, so, yeah, good job with the bad parents!

Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie AlenderI’m not sure if I liked Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender because it is exactly the kind of YA horror I read so much of as a pre-teen or if I liked it in spite of having read so much YA horror as a pre-teen. In any case, I really liked it.

Alexis thought she led a typically dysfunctional high school existence. Dysfunctional like her parents’ marriage; her doll-crazy twelve-year-old sister, Kasey; and even her own anti-social, anti-cheerleader attitude.

When a family fight results in some tearful sisterly bonding, Alexis realizes that her life is creeping from dysfunction into danger.  Kasey is acting stranger than ever: her blue eyes go green sometimes; she uses old-fashioned language; and she even loses track of chunks of time, claiming to know nothing about her strange behavior. Their old house is changing, too. Doors open and close by themselves; water boils on the unlit stove; and an unplugged air conditioner turns the house cold enough to see their breath in.

Alexis wants to think that it’s all in her head, but soon, what she liked to think of as silly parlor tricks are becoming life-threatening–to her, her family, and to her budding relationship with the class president.  Alexis knows she’s the only person who can stop Kasey — but what if that green-eyed girl isn’t even Kasey anymore?

Even though I think there was too much of a delay between the reader having enough info to put the clues together and Alexis coming to the same understanding, Bad Girls Don’t Die is genuinely creepy. It’s fast-paced—the action takes place over the course of a couple of days—with some humor, romance, and mystery to go along with the spook factor. Recommend this to fans of Lauren Myracle’s Bliss and Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Maggie Quinn books.

Nitpicks, quibbles, and problems after the jump. No major spoilers, but these things might not make sense if you haven’t read the books. So, to be safe, highlight to read.

Oh, and I have NOT categorized this post as a Review, because some of what follows includes way too much personal reaction, not objectivity, to Along for the Ride. If that’s not your kind of thing, well, thanks for reading until this point!

Along for the Ride
I think I’m in the minority about this one, but I didn’t buy Auden and Eli’s romantic relationship in Along for the Ride. Friendship yes, romance no.

And I’m with Reading Fool about how Auden was able to go to the diner every night. Did her parents just not care or did they trust her because of the maturity thing (although, considering the way Auden’s mother acts over Auden’s college paperwork, it doesn’t seem likely)? And, I’m inferring here, but it seemed like the fighting started before Auden was old enough to drive, so how did she get to the diner then?

The biggie, though, and I hesitate to write this because it is such a personal, subjective reaction, is based on a single conversation between Auden and her stepmother, Heidi. Now, I liked Heidi! I liked her more than Auden’s biological mother. I think I’m just overly sensitive to this issue and probably reading way too much into *one* conversation, but the Heidi calling herself a “cold bitch” thing? Where she says she was uptight, ruthless, business-oriented, with big city dreams, but returned home because her mother was sick, fell in love, got married, had a kid, and says all these changes “felt perfectly right.” It’s the old superiority of small town life; big, bad, evil cities; being uptight, ruthless, and putting your career first are bad but marriage and motherhood are the most worthwhile things ever cliches that some series romances (i.e., Harlequin/Silhouette) have been criticized for perpetuating. Seriously, Heidi’s story could be the character arc of the female protagonist in certain types of romances, and it’s something that would annoy, and potentially offend, me if I come across it in a contemporary romance. On one level, I realize this is just one character in one book (and again, I liked Heidi and I know she has her own small business so she obviously didn’t give up all her professional aspirations), but on another level, it bothers me so much. What is wrong with being a “cold bitch” if that’s what it would have taken for her to achieve her goals. Why does marriage and motherhood in her hometown feel “perfectly right”? What, she wouldn’t feel the same if she got married and had a kid in a city? Yes, in the context of this book, it might have been right for a particular fictional character and not a generalization about women in general, but at the same time, I don’t think this short, two-page conversation was necessary to the development of Heidi or Auden’s character.

/rant

This, more than anything else, is what decreased my enjoyment of Along for the Ride. I started thinking way too much about this issue, and now it’s the first thing that comes to mind regarding the book.

Bad Girls Don’t Die
My quibbles with Bad Girls Don’t Die, on the other hand, are more superficial/structural. And yet it didn’t affect how much I liked the book. Go figure. Anyway, I agree with Leila about Alexis’ denial going on for too long, at least in terms of length of the book and the number of events that occurred before she started believing, if not in length of time. Also, it’s possible I missed something here, but I wondered if there was a catalyst for Kasey being possessed. It seemed like in the previous cases, there wasn’t a big delay between a family moving in and a person becoming possessed, but Alexis and Kasey lived in the house for six(?) years before anything happened. Not to mention, if their mom grew up in Surrey, why didn’t she know anything about the house’s history, when other people from town did?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2009 2:17 pm

    The thing that bothered me about the “cold bitch” line was that I hadn’t seen anything in Heidi’s words or actions that bore even the slightest trace of coldness, let alone bitchiness. Given her extreme exhaustion and how badly her husband is letting her down, I would think that those traits would rise up again if they’d ever been there. You don’t shed that kind of persona just by moving to the beach and falling in love. Oh, wait…I guess that goes back to the “do people change” question, doesn’t it?

    Thanks for the link, by the way.

  2. July 21, 2009 9:44 am

    I generally enjoy Sarah Dessen’s novels. I have since I read This Lullaby in 2002. That said, yes, there is a ‘formula’ and sometimes it gets a bit predictable, but sometimes I wish she’d mix it up a bit, you know? Have a platonic friendship instead of romantic relationship or break new ground(for her anyway) by featuring characters that are a bit more diverse. Many of them are interchangeable & as a longtime reader, it gets a bit stale.
    I really liked your comments in the hidden portion & agree with them! I really liked Heidi & wish she’d been written a bit differently.

  3. July 21, 2009 9:55 pm

    ReadingFool and Liz – Thanks for chiming in! I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling some…disappointment? apprehension? okay, in my case, anger…concerning the way Heidi was depicted.

    I did think Lock and Key was a departure from the Dessen formula (the post-This Lullaby formula, at any rate), but I agree that it would be nice to see more of a departure. On the other hand, I can’t blame her for sticking to what works, especially when she writes it so well.

    And, ReadingFool, you’re welcome!

  4. Lena permalink
    July 26, 2009 9:11 pm

    I enjoyed Along for the Ride very much, but I very much agree with the correlation between over-analyzing and enjoyment of the book. I felt like I had to just gloss over the idea of Heidi’s “cold bitch” persona and also the nature of Auden and Eli’s relationship to enjoy the book properly.

    On the other hand, I think maybe “cold bitch” thing refers more to emotional detachment than meanness or anger; maybe I need to re-read that passage before saying for sure.

    As for the formula, I found myself recognizing that it was there (again) and not really minding. It would be nice to see what she’d do with an older protagonist and/or audience, though.

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