Along for the Ride (2009) is a young adult contemporary novel by Sarah Dessen about one girl’s transformation over summer. As someone who grew up reading Sarah Dessen books throughout high school and college, I was thrilled to see another one of her novels adapted into a movie!
Penguin Random House, Netflix
Directed by Sofia Alvarez (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before), the film captures all the incredible summer magic and romance in the small beach town of Colby. It stars newcomers Emma Pasarow as Auden and Belmont Cameli as Eli, as well as Andie MacDowell, Kate Bosworth, and Dermot Mulroney.
I am thrilled to report that this adaptation is highly enjoyable. The music, the vibes! It hits in all the best ways. And because it’s fresh on my brain, here are some major book-to-movie differences I noticed while watching.
This goes without saying, but just in case: SPOILERS AHEAD.
1. The bell tower tradition that marks the end of senior year isn’t how the book opens.
I really loved this addition to the film. This scene does a great job showcasing the type of person Auden is (someone who stands on the sidelines) and how she grows throughout (into someone who actively lives her life, joins in the dance parties, and has a group of friends). The book opens up with a lot of backstory that cues us into her awkwardness and the ways in which she looks down on others, but this opening scene really nails it.
2. In the book, Auden offers her help to Heidi after she spends a few weeks in Colby.
Because Auden has trouble sleeping, she fixes Heidi’s books for her in the middle of the night. The next morning, Heidi offers her a job. In the movie, Auden’s purpose of visiting Colby for the summer is to not only spend more time with her dad, but to also work at Heidi’s store, Clementine’s.
3. Auden has a brother named Hollis — a free-spirited, go-with-the-flow type who is the opposite of Auden.
I was sad that Hollis (and his girlfriend Tara) didn’t make it into the movie! There are some really beautiful moments between Auden and Hollis’s relationship in the book. He helps her understand that though their mother is intelligent and has strong opinions, it doesn’t mean THEY have to live their lives in an uptight, judgmental way.
Hollis also gives Auden a framed photo of himself when he gets back from Europe. The saying “the best of times” is engraved on it, which is something Auden often reflects upon as she makes friends in Colby. I was so glad the movie included the picture frame in the last scene as a little nod to the book!
4. Jake and Auden hook up.
Auden and Jake hook up “off-page” in the book, and as a narrator, Auden never reveals to us what really happened. Although we don’t see it from Auden’s perspective, we discover it is, in fact, true. Auden overhears Maggie, Leah, and Esther talking about it when she enters Clementine’s, and they’re able to identify her. In the movie, Auden has an unmemorable make-out moment with Jake before saying she’s not into it, then walks away. Not before Maggie puts two and two together, though!
5. The Adam-and-Maggie storyline wasn’t really included in the movie, either.
Maggie deserved more in the film, in my humble opinion. After she realizes Jake is a giant tool, Maggie slowly begins to discover that Adam (who works at the bike shop with Eli) has feelings for her. She’s not into the idea at first, but Adam grows on her throughout the novel. Their banter is a really fun addition to the book! Adam even helps Auden learn how to ride a bike — but I do love that this moment happens between Auden and Maggie in the film.
6. Eli is more stoic, lonely, and hard to read in the novel.
Eli (played by Belmont Cameli) is a bit of an enigma in the book, but the movie brought a much-needed charming, adventurous, and flirtatious side to Eli. It’s clear that he wants to hang out with Auden. Unlike in the book, they go to a drive-in, play mini golf, and sit down to a game of Connect Four. They roam around shops that are open late and have cart races in the parking lot. These moments are adorable and help build the chemistry between our two love interests.
7. Auden is judgmental.
While Auden does pass judgement in the film, I personally think she’s more judgmental of the people of Colby in the book. There’s a line where Eli actually calls her out on acting defensive. The movie softens both of these characters in strong ways, and it’s lovely to see!
8. The naming of Thisbe/Caroline.
In the book, Auden and Heidi share a scene where Heidi explains that her father really pushed for the name Thisbe when Heidi really wanted to name her daughter Caroline. Auden walks in on Heidi calling the baby Caroline, and it reinstates the narrative that Auden’s father gets what he wants, when he wants.
9. The lock-and-key necklace.
I fully admit this isn’t necessarily a book-to-film difference, but I did catch the scene at Clementine’s where a “lock-and-key” necklace is mentioned. Is this perhaps an Easter egg? Sarah Dessen’s 2008 novel is titled Lock and Key, and I wondered if this was a subtle nod! (Sarah please confirm!!!)
10. Eli’s mother, Karen, comes to the rescue.
When Heidi experiences a nervous breakdown from lack of sleep, a colicky daughter, and the stress of being a new mother without help from her husband, Auden calls on Eli for help. Eli then calls on his mother Karen, who is a retired nurse. Eli also knows a lot about swaddling a baby, which he teaches Auden. In the movie, we do not get to meet Eli’s mother. Instead, it’s Auden’s mother who babysits Thisbe at the end of the book while Heidi and Auden go to the Beach Bash. I do love that Heidi and Victoria have that moment in the movie, however!
11. Auden’s mom is flighty in her relationships.
Dr. Victoria West is known for engaging the minds of her college students in the book, but Auden sees the way they’re drawn to her. She also sees the aftermath of a hookup that happens between her mother and (I believe) her teaching assistant. This storyline didn’t happen in the film, but in the book it shows that Dr. West struggles to find a real, loving connection to someone — something that Auden finds herself struggling with as she starts to fall for Eli.
12. Auden goes to Eli’s apartment.
There’s a scene in the book where Heidi and Auden’s dad, Robert, are fighting, and Auden seeks peace by staying at Eli’s apartment. They make conversation and also Rice Krispie Treats before Auden heads home in the early hours of the morning.
13. That sweet summer kiss in the ocean didn’t happen in the book.
While the hot dog party was a big part of the book, Eli and Auden’s kiss in the ocean didn’t occur. It’s a very sweet and cinematic moment, so I’m glad we got to see it happen in the film!
14. Auden never attends Eli’s bike competition.
I love that they included this bit in the film because in the book it is implied Eli went to compete on his own, without telling anyone, after he and Auden experience a falling out. In the movie, he’s supported by all his friends — including Auden!
15. Jason (Auden’s ex prom date) has more storyline in the book.
In the film, Auden mentions to Eli that her prom date stood her up. In the book, Jason is in town for an important convention. He asks Auden if he can make from up to her by taking her to the Beach Bash, which Heidi is helping to plan. Auden says yes despite her attraction for Eli. She’s afraid she’s changing too much, like her mother pointed out. But then Jason flakes out on her at the last minute, and Auden decides to ask Eli — and then he turns her down. (He had to go to a bike competition!) But later on, they meet at the prom-themed Beach Bash.
16. In the end, Auden and Eli meet at a diner called Ray’s.
Instead of traveling the world, Eli attends Defreise with Maggie and Auden. The book ends with Auden and Eli having a late night meet-up at their usual table at a diner, whereas the movie ends on Maggie and Auden — a full circle moment for Auden, revealing how much she’s grown in the last six months and how much Colby changed her for the better.