Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Lately, I've been reading a great deal of literature that is categorized by the publisher as "Young Adult", but this is the first book I've read that falls into my pre-conceived notion of what that is.  Before I started reading so much of it, I thought that the category dealt with teenagers and growing up, or at least functioned as a tool to help them do so... sort of a public service announcement or an "After School Special".  Although, I've been rethinking the definition (this would be a great book club discussion topic, Christine), this book is NOT the reason. Please, don't take that as a dis of this book, cuz it certainly isn't meant that way.  "After School Specials" can be very touching and generally have a good message to impart.  Lock and Key is certainly both of those things.

Although she has published a number of books, this is the first Sarah Dessen book I have read.  It won't be the last (in fact, I have another queued in my MP3 player right now) although I must confess that it was not love at first sight. I had to warm up to this book, but thaw, I did. I have a number of criticisms that I'm mostly willing to forgive at this point.  Although set in reality, there's an element of unlikeliness that can easily be picked at. Like many Nora Roberts books, the events in this story COULD happen, but most likely wouldn't happen the way they've been written.

In Lock and Key, 17 year old Ruby is taken in, by her older sister Cora, after being abandoned by her alcoholic mother. Ruby has been forced to rely on herself for the past 10 years (after Cora left for college) and consequently become leary of people in general, as well as fiercely self reliant.

Both a strength and a weakness of this book is its meticulous construction.  For me, it didn't feel as organic as other books I've read, but at the same time it was marvelously well "built".  The "lock and key" theme is used effectively, if not subtley, as a metaphor throughout.  Events portrayed in the book have specific reasons for being there and efficiently facilitate the growth of our protagonist. Sarah is another straight forward writer.  The book is not heavy on prose or intricate description, but the dialogue felt natural and she's good at characterization.

My major knock on this book is the change in pacing. Sarah takes her time developing her characters and getting them from point A to point B, but at the end there is a mad rush to tie things up.  It's like she was limited to a certain word count and suddenly realized she was going to exceed it if she didn't sum things up.

I've seen a couple reviews where people have complained about the language (which i totally missed) and the use of drugs and alcohol.  Personally, I think these are elements that were under utilized given the subject matter of the book, but I guess you should be warned if this kind of thing offends your sensibility.



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