Sarah Dessen is a Young Adult (YA) romance staple for many, including myself when I was a teenager, so I was delighted when I heard that my favorite book by her was being made into a movie!  

Along for the Ride (2022) follows Auden West, a college-bound teenager who is spending the summer with her father and his new family in Colby, a cozy beach town. Having spent her teenage years striving toward perfection and her mother’s high standards, Auden is out of her element amidst people who care about things she didn’t think mattered until now—close friendships, riding bikes, hot dog parties, and more. How life-changing could one summer really be, anyway?

On some level, I related to Auden’s family struggles and her social anxiety. Albeit not in the same way, I too believed that I had messed up high school and didn’t have the experience I’d hoped for, “like stuff you read about in books,” as movie Auden put it. So, my fellow fans: I am disappointed to report that this adaptation fell pretty flat for me, much like a bicycle tire that needs refilling (sorry, I had to!)

Emma Pasasrow did capture some of Auden’s awkwardness, and I’d like to see her in a different coming-of-age story. But her portrayal of Auden felt like a diluted version of the layered, neurotic, and earnest character whose story I’ve reread for more than a decade. Right from the get-go, she is much more aware of her social ineptitude than her book counterpart and she displays more remorse about this. On the other hand, book Auden took some time to come to terms with the fact that her parents’ divorce (and their personalities) forced her to grow up too fast, leading her to miss out on various experiences including close friendships.

I appreciate that the filmmakers dialed down the “I’m not like other girls” schtick to fit the modern context (though, this mindset does still exist). I do wish it had been included more because it was a crucial part of Auden, her mother (Andie MacDowell), and their development both individually and collectively. Both of them are feminists with internalized misogyny, with Auden inheriting her mother’s tendency to look down on women who are too “girly”. As Auden gets to know her stepmother Heidi and her new friend Maggie, she unlearns a lot of this, something that was amazing to see both spelled out and conveyed in subtle moments. 

During one of my favorite moments in the book, Auden’s father heads back to his study to work on his writing and he says to Auden, “You’ll be okay on your own?” The following paragraph from Auden’s perspective has never left my brain: 

It wasn’t even really a question, only phrased to sound like one. Funny how intonation could do so much, change even what something was at its core. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Go ahead. I’ll be fine.’

I’ve always struggled to gauge someone’s tone through text, but books like Along for the Ride are an exception to that. Dessen’s characters tell us who they are through their truthful and relatable internal monologues—it’s as if we’re sitting by their side as we see how they change. I may not be able to hear their actual intonations, but their thoughts and interactions are so vividly described that I can see them playing out in my mind. So much of this story takes place between the lines, and so much of that is missing from the movie. I’m far from an authority on how adaptations work, but I can’t help but wonder if this one might have been better suited for a miniseries to more thoroughly flesh out the characters and plot lines. 

My favorite part of the movie was Auden’s budding friendship with Maggie (Laura Kariuki), who is even more lively and smart than I imagined. But where did that fit into Auden’s life in Colby and beyond? I couldn’t fully tell because we didn’t see the many interconnected moving parts in enough detail—there was no big brother to aid Auden’s realization of what she had been missing and what she could still have, there weren’t many meaningful interactions with her stepmother Heidi (Kate Bosworth did her best with limited screen time), and there weren’t enough moments with Auden and her dad (Dermot Mulroney) to back up her mother’s digs at him. There definitely wasn’t enough of a build-up between Eli (Belmont Cameli) and Auden; in fact, we only get a TLDR of these two once-reserved characters whose unexpected intimacy grows during the nights they spend exploring Colby while it is asleep. 

Lena Wilson of the New York Times summarized my issues with Auden’s arc and the entire movie perfectly: 

But such a breezy, Instagram-friendly adaptation feels like a betrayal to Dessen’s original, neurotic protagonist, who has a more difficult journey from self-induced solitude to romance.

Dessen’s books, though formulaic at times, have a depth to them that always left me pondering aspects of myself and my relationships. Unfortunately, that trademark trait was missing in Along for the Ride! I kept waiting to see the characters’ nuances and their place in the throughline: the joy and discomfort of experiencing growing pains while allowing yourself to be playful. Though a few moments achieve this, the movie still left much to be desired. 

Thanks for reading! What’s your favorite YA movie/show adaptation?