Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

1295102Title: Lock and Key
Author: Sarah Dessen
Pages: 422
Year: 2008
Publisher: Viking (Penguin Group)
Time taken to read: 8 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisRuby knows that the game is up. For the past few months, she’s been on her own in the yellow house, managing somehow, knowing that her mother will probably never return. That’s how she comes to live with Cora, the sister she hasn’t seen in ten years, and Cora’s husband Jamie, whose down-to-earth demeanor makes it hard for Ruby to believe he founded the most popular networking Web site around. A luxurious house, fancy private school, a new wardrobe, the promise of college and a future; it’s a dream come true. So why is Ruby such a reluctant Cinderella, wary and defensive? And why is Nate, the genial boy next door with some secrets of his own, unable to accept the help that Ruby is just learning to give?

This is the second book I’ve checked out from the Free Library of Philadelphia since I moved to Philly in July. This book wasn’t calling to me or anything, but their YA section is limited, so this is what I ended up with. Lock and Key is like most Sarah Dessen books: good. Just good. The writing is good. I found a few technical errors, as I often do, but Dessen’s voice is strong. There was a weird section near the beginning where some of the story is told out of order that I thought could have been avoided, but it was a small bump in the road. Also, I was really confused about whether or not Ruby gave Nate the key to the yellow house. I thought she did, but then she dropped it in the pond. What the heck happened with that? Someone please explain.

I appreciate Dessen’s attempt at a semi-feminist main character. Ruby is forced to go shopping, and at some point she snaps to the handsome boyfriend something like, “Oh, so just because I’m a girl I should like shopping?” Her reaction isn’t unwarranted, but it feels flat. Throughout the book I get the sense that Ruby thinks she’s better than other girls for exactly that reason. She’s the not-like-the-other-girls girl that I cannot stand and that lots of current feminists like myself once were. They’re the type that forget that, while being a girl doesn’t automatically mean you like pink, being a strong female doesn’t automatically mean you don’t like pink. (Personally, I LOVE pink. And yes, I once insisted that I hated it.) And it’s clear that that’s why Nate likes Ruby. He goes from dating perfect princess Heather (who actually seems like a really amazing person) to messing around with rugged Ruby. Now that I think about it, the color pink does make an appearance. Ruby notes that a girl in a pack of middle schoolers who is “wearing all pink” is “clearly the leader of this particular group” (388). It is evident by her tone that she thinks these girls and especially their leader are superficial and annoying. Ruby is super judgmental, and honestly, I guess I can see where she’s coming from. When you’ve been through hell, you feel a certain superiority over the people who you assume have not. But “assume” is the key. I also felt like Harriet’s character was borderline offensive. She seemed to be a personification of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that I really just didn’t appreciate. And I didn’t like that her main characteristic was overthrown by the end by the fact that she opened up to someone. It’s like the author just deleted the original Harriet to make way for a new-and-improved Harriet and called it character development, and it reeked of ignorance.

I’m also simply not a fan of the story that was told. I can’t feel sympathy for someone who just moved into an amazingly beautiful house with a balcony in her f*cking room and a fancy private school and a brother-in-law that’s the fictional equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg. In my mind, her problems are essentially solved. I no longer care about her. A story I would care about is the one told in the first five or so pages of backstory. I want to read about a teenage girl living and working with her mother (who clearly has Borderline Personality Disorder) who gets abandoned and has to live on her own. Being taken in by her loving and rich as f*ck sister should have been the happy ending. Actually, what would have been really cool is that story told from Ruby’s and Cora’s points of view, bouncing back and forth. (And I normally HATE multiple points of view.) That could have included some really interesting dramatic irony where we know that Cora wants to see Ruby, but Ruby doesn’t know. Overall, I think Dessen took the easy way out with this book.

My problem with Sarah Dessen books is that I’m never captivated. I never forget that I’m reading a book. I’m always aware of the fact that this is fiction, and I always know what’s going to happen. Dessen’s books can rarely get a rating higher that 3 out of 5 stars from me because, while the writing itself is good, the story is always boring and it’s always already been done. I think that, while Sarah Dessen is a good writer, she is a poor storyteller. Still, as a hopeful future YA author, I have to read all her books because she’s part of what’s popular in the YA world. It’s just a question of which mediocre and privilege-ridden story I’ll be picking up next.

(Wow, I’ve just noticed that my reviews tend to start out nice and end with 100% sass. Anyone else do the same thing?)

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