When Ruby’s mother disappears and leaves her to fend for herself, she makes it work as best she can. It’s not the first time her mother has taken off. When social services gets involved, Ruby ends up living with her estranged sister Cora and her new husband. Their world is so different from Ruby’s that she struggles to adjust. When she meets Nate, the proverbial boy next door with issues of his own, she starts to learn to open up–and give and receive love in all its forms.
By far one of Dessen’s darkest novels, Lock and Key offers up more of the Dessen formula with mixed results. While the development of Ruby, Cora, and Nate are particularly well-done, the novel’s length is to its own detriment. Definitely not Dessen’s strongest novel, it’s not the one I’d recommend to readers unfamiliar with her oeuvre.
Ruby is a flawed heroine, like many Dessen girls. However, Ruby is so closed off that she’s hard to get close to. Her anger at her sister–however misplaced–is certainly believable, though. The slow unfolding of her relationship with Nate will transfix readers who aren’t looking for insta-love. The book’s message is not at all subtle and sometimes borders on the heavy-handed, but Dessen’s tone is relaxed and warm.
Although the story seems to stutter a bit near the middle, the book as a whole is fairly satisfying, if not a bit predictable. I wish that Dessen had taken a bit more care with some of the tertiary characters. Too often, it feels as though she took the easy way out with Ruby’s former best friend and with Nate’s father.
The requisite Dessen character Easter eggs are present; they’re a quiet little bonus for diehard fans. Overall a nice, quiet read. Nowhere near as powerful as Dessen’s best titles, though. I’d recommend this to Dessen fans who have exhausted the other options.
Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen. Viking Juvenile: 2008. Library copy.