Review: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Monday, May 30, 2011

Title: Lock and Key
Author: Sarah Dessen
Genre: young-adult, coming-of-age
Series: N/A
Published: April 2008
Pages: 422
Rating: 4/5

Lock and Key is my first YA coming-of-age book by Sarah Dessen, an author who has been endlessly talked up to me for years. Happily all the hype I've heard was almost dead-on, and I ended up thoroughly enjoying this foray into the life of troubled teen Ruby Cooper. Very much a character-driven novel, rather than plot-orientated, I was immediately caught up in the story.
Ruby, with her troubled past and uncertain future, is not perfect. She doesn't even try to be, which is refreshing. I liked her all the more for knowing who she was and accepting herself as is. She's difficult, independent, and supremely stubborn. It was very easy, for me, to relate and identify with Ruby. She's human, and fallible. Dessen does a great job in using a truly credible voice for a teenage girl with an emotionally and physically abusive mother.
Ruby's mother, abusive and emotionally unavailable, does her best to recreate Ruby in her own image; they even share the same name. She routinely uproots her daughter, making real connections or long-lasting friendships nearly impossible. Ruby's mother, under the guise of teaching her "independence" is actually demonstrating the worst kind of neglect. She doesn't seem to truly care at all for Ruby, she just wants to make sure that Ruby has no one to count on outside of family. Interestingly, Ruby Elder never actually makes an appearance in the pages of the book. Entirely symbolic of her attitude toward her younger daughter, she is only mentioned, remembered or explained in absentia. She operates entirely off the page, abandoning Ruby long before Ruby even processes what she has done.
A plethora of background characters give the book its lightness, the fun and the humor. Ruby's elder sister Cora's husband Jamie is unreservedly chipper, optimistic and family-orientated, unlike the Cooper siblings. He inevitably brought a smile or a chuckle when I read his lines. Nate was a charming and nuanced character that had excellent chemistry with Ruby. The relationship felt natural and through its ups and downs, a very realistic portrayal of teenage romance.
I will say, however, that the storyline with Harriet/Reggie/the KeyChains left me a little cold. I was never truly invested in them, or their unrequited love. In a book where everything seemed grounded and plausible, it seemed a bit trite and forced. We already had a troubled love connection storyline, and it seemed superfluous, adding unnecessary drama and tension. But that is one minor complaint in the face of many more virtues.
Another slight problem I had was Ruby's transformation from Seriously Troubled Teen to just Regular Slightly Difficult Teen. [Small spoiler ahead] After the big reveal with Cora about their mother and her numerous deceptions to keep the sisters apart, Ruby changed so abruptly and easily, I just could not buy it.
That is not to say that I didn't love this book (I did) or that I don't plan on rereading it (I do) or recommending it (I will); just that like Ruby, it wasn't perfect. It was enjoyable, compusively readable, if not ground-breaking. I certainly liked Dessen's style from this book to encourage me to check out more of her work. 

In fact, I already added The Truth About Forever (I've even read [& LOVED] this already, review to come), and her newest, just-published novel, What Happened to Goodbye to my t-b-r monstrosity.


  1. I love the idea of a character that is never on the page but has a huge presence. This may go on my list!

  2. It was really, really well done. I was impressed with the strength of the character and the repercussions of her actions on the main character.


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