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debut book review: Lock and Key

>This is a spoiler-free review.

Last night I finished a book by Sarah Dessen called Lock and Key. The novel is intended for a teen girl audience, but it can definitely be enjoyed by teen boys, women, and other audiences.

Well, I can only really vouch for the teen girl and women audiences. Though after tomorrow I hope to be able to say teen boys like it, too. It’s one of the options for my advanced eighth graders’ literature circle assignment, and some boys chose it. (I told them that it might help them gain insight into girls. Hee hee!) It’s discussion day tomorrow, so I’ll be able to let you know how the boys like it soon!

Dessen’s main character is Ruby, a high school senior whose mom abandoned her. After living on her own for several months, Ruby’s secret is discovered, and she is forced to move in with the older sister she hasn’t seen in 10 years. This new life includes a new school, regular meals, extravagant shopping trips… and people who care about her future.

Ruby’s main struggle in the book is determining her new definition of family. For years it had just been her and her mom, and when her mom left, she didn’t rely on anyone but herself. Her first instinct in this new life, then, is to shut people out and run away.

Thankfully Dessen gives Ruby a foil in Nate, her new next-door neighbor. Nate is a fellow senior at Ruby’s new school, and he is enlisted to drive her to school each day. The relationship between the two is more than the typical new-girl-at-school-captures-the-coveted-boy’s-heart storyline in many teen reads. Ruby and Nate learn quite a bit from each other about similarities and differences that aren’t always apparent at first glances.

My favorite element of the book, though, was the definition of family woven throughout. More specifically, I love this quote:

“What is family? They were the people who claimed you. In good, in bad, in parts or in whole, they were the ones who showed up, who stayed in there, regardless. It wasn’t just about blood relations or shared chromosomes, but something wider, bigger. … friends, lovers, sometimes even strangers. None of them were perfect, and we couldn’t expect them to be. You couldn’t make any one person your world. The trick was to take what each could give you and build a world from it.”

It’s this definition of family that touches me in my life right now. I am experiencing the idea of building a life with my children, my extended family, and my friends. And right now, I can truly say that my life is better than ever.

So I love this book because it spoke to me at the place I’m at right now. But I think it has messages for any number of individuals. Friendship is universal, and so is family.

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