Sarah Dessen’s novels had an absolute chokehold on emerging young adults of the early 2000s. Her stories often feature high school protagonists finding themselves the summer before college, encountering love along the way.
Dessen’s novels haven’t been adapted for the screen since 2003, when “How to Deal,” an adaptation of “That Summer” and “Someone Like You,” was released. The movie received largely negative reviews, but one redeeming quality was the inclusion of renowned actress Mandy Moore.
In 2022, Dessen’s bestselling 2009 novel “Along for the Ride” was adapted as a movie on Netflix, starring Emma Pasarow and Belmont Cameli. The story follows Auden, a studious high school graduate who decides to spend the summer in Colby, a beach town where her father, stepmother and new baby sister live. For Dessen fans, Colby is just one of the many Easter egg references to her prior works.
Auden starts working at Clementine’s, a boardwalk boutique selling everything Auden once wouldn’t be caught dead in. But away from her mother’s strict expectations, she begins to cut loose. She befriends her coworkers, one of whom is played by “Dog with a Blog” star Genevieve Hannelius, and reconsiders the world as she knows it.
But things at home aren’t so serene, and Auden’s emerging insomnia becomes an escape. One night, she meets former BMX rider Eli, and the two of them decide to complete a quest in an attempt to get Auden to try things she’s never done before: for example, going bowling, partaking in a food fight and eating pie at a laundromat-turned-diner.
“Along for the Ride” was overall a solid watch. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but as a longtime fan of the novel, I didn’t have too many gripes about the changes made; in a reader’s book, that is a big win. The adaptation did have some changes that are important to note, however.
To start, the movie completely cuts Auden’s brother out. The decision is somewhat understandable, yet most of the communication between him and Auden in the book took place through phone calls, which don’t seem too difficult to replicate. Even a brief mention of him would have better explained the significance of the “Best of Times” picture frame featured at the end of the movie. The same goes for Auden’s mother’s new boyfriend, whose presence helps explain some of the tension between the mother-daughter pair.
One of the most iconic scenes in “Along for the Ride” is the “hot-dog party” food fight, and the Netflix adaptation does a stellar job of recreating everyone’s childhood cafeteria fantasy. However, this public affair is not what kickstarts Auden’s relationship with Eli in the book. The movie does take Eli’s ex-girlfriend out of the picture — a choice I once again have no issue with.
The biggest difference is the character development resulting from Auden’s relationships with her half-sister Thisbe and stepmother Heidi. In the books, Auden spends far more time looking after Thisbe and contemplating how her relationship with her father is reflected in his with Thisbe.
The books also show a fully fleshed-out version of Heidi, especially through her planning of the annual beach bash. Heidi intentionally chooses a prom theme, giving Auden a chance to create memories missed in high school. Yet, the movie depicts the party as a last-minute affair, put together by Auden’s friends. It cuts out all the tension Heidi faced planning an event while singlehandedly learning the ropes of motherhood. Heidi remains an important character, but including these moments would only accentuate her character.
All in all, “Along for the Ride” was a fairly successful adaptation capturing the magic of insomnia, beach towns and young love. Netflix plans to adapt Dessen’s novels “Once and For All” and “This Lullaby” in the future, giving Dessen fans something to look forward to.
Adaptation Rating: 4/5