Book Talk: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Book Talk: Lock and Key by Sarah DessenLock and Key by Sarah Dessen
Published by Speak on May 14, 2009
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 422
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Ruby can take care of herself.
She's used to counting on no one and answering to nobody. But all of that changes when her mother vanishes and Ruby is sent to live with her older sister, Cora. Now Ruby's got her own room in a fabulous new house, she's going to private school, and—for the first time—feeling as if she has a future. Plus, there's the adorable and sweet boy next door, Nate. Everything should be perfect. So why is Ruby so wary? And why is Nate keeping her at a distance? Ruby soon comes to realize that sometimes, in order to save yourself, you've got to reach out to someone else.

Initially, I didn’t feel so good about my read all the Sarah Dessen plan, but now I’m feeling incredibly vindicated as I read great book after great book. Dessen’s books are a bit atypical in that they ride the line between issue books and fluffy ones. They’re also less bantery than most of the contemporaries I love, but the characters are well drawn and have realistic, complex relationships with one another. These books make me feel in ways aside from my usual shippy banter feels (still the absolute best feels, don’t get me wrong), and I love that. Lock and Key just might be my favorite so far.

As seems to be standard with Sarah Dessen, I didn’t love the first couple of chapters (and they’re long in this book). Dessen, at least with these books where she’s really hit her stride (starting with This Lullaby), writes heroines who are emotionally closed off and distant. I suspect it’s because she loves writing the character arc where they open up and connect with the world, and I respect that because she’s damn good at it and I love a good character arc. Still, it means that initially, the voice feels bland and cold and distant, making connection difficult. But then, you hit that first moment where the heroine begins to make connections and overcome whatever has made herself lock her feelings down and it’s amazing and the book becomes so difficult to put down.

After I got to chapter three, I didn’t put this book down. It’s not that frantic page-turning kind of unputdownable, but a quieter lovely kind. The pace is slow in a way that makes it feel like time is passing and you’re right there with Ruby as she grows and changes. The plot’s pretty predictable, but you want to be there with her to see everything go down. It just works in ways I clearly don’t have the facility to explain.

Ruby’s closed off and distant because that’s how she had to be to survive her childhood. Raised by an alcoholic and drug-addicted mother who was neglectful at the best of times and abusive at the worst, Ruby had to learn to be pretty self-sufficient. She actually was pretty much holding down her mother’s job for her at the point when her mother abandoned her. Ruby tries to just keep on going without anyone noticing her absent mother, to hold out until she turns eighteen, but her landlords notice and child services show up. Ruby ends up living with her much older sister, Cora, who she hasn’t seen since Cora left for college years ago.

All Ruby wants initially is to get away from the sister and brother-in-law who got stuck with her, a sister who wasn’t in contact all those years, who just left her with her abusive mother. Despite the fact that her brother-in-law Jamie is super rich because he’s basically alternate universe Mark Zuckerberg, she just wants to be on her own. Ruby believes on letting no one close and being completely independent. She resists absolutely everything, but slowly gets caught up in the people around her.

Ruby and Cora have a nice arc together, though I do find some of Cora’s back story of questionable believability. View Spoiler » What works really well here is seeing the short-term and longer-term affects of that childhood. Cora’s been out of that situation for a long time, and she has a new effusively loving family, but she’s still affected by how she grew up. Jamie, though, does steal the show family-wise. He’s so adorable and likable, despite my not expecting to like him because Mark Zuckerberg.

Nate’s an absolutely adorable friend and love interest, and I love him so much. He’s a really atypical sort of love interest. Yes, he’s one of the most popular boys in school, but he’s also incredibly sweet and lovely to everyone. He’s just this massively genuine and positive person. He reminds me a bit of Gideon from Foolish Hearts, though he lacks the quirkiness. Also, Nate’s really fully fleshed-out. He initially seems to be this perfect person, open and trusting, but there turns out to be so much more going on to him than he shows, which is a reminder that we never know what someone’s life is like from the surface.

This isn’t the sort of contemporary that usually works for me. It’s quieter and slower and more open-ended, but Lock and Key really hit me in the feels. I always love when books surprise me like that.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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