The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Ruby Tuesday (Review: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen)

Lock and Key
Sarah Dessen
Puffin 2008

Ruby, where is your mother?" Ruby 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.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I've had Sarah Dessen's This Lullaby on my nightstand for bloody ages. I keep trying to read it but can never seem to get into the story nor invest in the characters, so it was with some trepidation that I sat down with Lock and Key. However, I have heard so many good things about Dessen's books that I really wanted to give it a go...

With Ruby, Dessen has created an utterly believable character. After a difficult childhood, Ruby finds herself abandoned by her mother and living with a sister who disappeared years ago and a brother-in-law she has never previously met. Thrust into a life of luxury from quite the opposite, Ruby finds it hard to settle – completely unable to set down roots, having never before had to do so. Ruby's prickly persona is absolutely in keeping with her story and is always understandable, yet never overplayed. She is uncomfortable, yet never acts out hugely bar one occasion which was refreshing as I fully expected (from reading the blurb) her to be on full teen-runaway mode. The story as a whole is really quite a quiet one, as Ruby slowly acclimatises to her new life and figures out a way to build lasting relationships with those around her. I was gratified that at no point was there a sudden shift to her being completely adjusted and surrounded by dozens of friends – its all very much a work in progress, even as we leave her, which again makes her story all the more believable.

The secondary characters are really great. Nate is refreshing in that he is not just the hot boy next door, but has his own story and issues. He and Ruby make a very complimentary pair and it is lovely to watch their friendship develop over the course of the book – no rushed romance here, just a slow acceptance of each other as friends, something that you suspect both of them find difficult. Cora is quietly complex as Ruby's sister and one of the most compelling aspects of the book is the question of why she left Ruby and their mother (who only appears as a shadowy and absent figure) in the first place. A very special shout out to Cora's husband Jamie, who has to be one of the nicest characters that I've read in ages. He is utterly gleeful, kind, welcoming and warm – yet not at all two dimensional, and the first to be hurt when Ruby does eventually act out. I would love to be around him for the holiday season – a man who loves Christmas is a man after my own heart.

I loved the ongoing themes running through the book – that of family and friends being ever evolving rather than set in stone, and that of what makes a home. I found the authors examination of these questions to be heartwarming and finished the book with a smile on my face. In fact, despite the sometimes sad subject matter, I found this a really comforting book to read. There was something in the writing that reminded me of the Caroline B. Cooney books that I loved when I was younger (although Lock and Key has a little more length and depth) and I was actually sorry to leave the characters behind when I finished reading. I think I could have happily stayed with their story for several more chapters. One thing is for sure, while I may still get nowhere with This Lullaby, Lock and Key will certainly not be the last Sarah Dessen book that I read. My only regret is that it has taken me this long to discover her.

Thank you to the kind folk at Puffin for sending me this to review.


Ok, I've seen this book around for a while now, but keep hesitating to buy this whenever I do see it. After reading your review, I am now going to get hold of a copy. Something, I find, your reviews always do. :) Love the cover as well. Not quite sure why, but I just do.
Lauren said…
Hmmm. This sounds really interesting and somehow genuine, and I'm starting to suspect it's the UK covers that have prevented me from picking up a Sarah Dessen novel so far. I love how you've said that you could have stayed with the characters for longer - that's a feeling I really love to find in a book.
This is one of my favourites of Sarah Dessens. I'm pretty sure I'd read anything she's written..
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