Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen. (Grades 9+)
It all starts when Auden's brother sends her a picture frame from Europe. The picture frame has the words "The Best of Times" on it and it starts Auden thinking. She's been so wrapped up in Achievement - good grades, hard work, making her super intellectual, divorced parents proud - that she never bothered to create any memories worthy of being called "the best of times". So she decides to fix that and spend the summer with her dad and his new wife and newborn daughter.
Life on the beach isn't quite as idyllic as Auden had hoped it would be, but when she meets Eli her summer takes a turn for the better. As Eli helps Auden recapture the childhood she missed out on, Auden starts to figure out how to deal with her self-centered parents, her friends, and her life.
What I loved about Along for the Ride is how quickly all the characters felt real to me. Sarah Dessen has such a talent for creating characters that you care about, that you feel like you know. Within a few chapters, I felt I had a complete picture of Auden's parents and it only got deeper and more detailed as the story went on.
I was really rooting for Auden. She's got a lot to deal with. Her parents are both jerks and she's been so wrapped up in trying to please them that she never really realized that. Now that she's got some space and some new friends, she can finally begin to look at them clearly. And as the summer goes on, Auden starts to look at herself and the people around her more clearly, too. People are more than they appear in the beachside town of Colby, as Auden will discover.
And yes, there's romance, but the romance is secondary to Auden's inner journey. But the romance is still nice. :)
I've liked some of Sarah Dessen's books better than others and Along for the Ride has to be one of my favorites. I got wrapped up in the story and I kept reading bits of dialogue out loud to hear how it sounded. (It sounds great.) Sarah Dessen fans will be pleased with this one. There's still a bit of summer left and I'd hand this to any girl looking for well-written, thoughtful beach reading.
If you act fast, you could win an ARC of Along for the Ride from Pop Culture Junkie (contest ends July 30) OR from YABookNerd (contest also ends July 30) OR from Em's Bookshelf (contest ends July 31). Ohh there are so many more reviews of this book. Here's a sampling: Tempting Persephone, Bookworm 4 Life, The Story Siren, and The Reading Zone. And if you just can't get enough of Sarah, check out Sarah-land and you might consider joining the Sarah Dessen Challenge.