Thursday, October 22

Lock and Key - Sarah Dessen

Ruby had been managing on her own just fine, thank you very much, ever since her mother took off with her latest boyfriend. After all, she'd helped with the frequent house moves, the fake names to ward off creditors, assisted her mother at work, and pretty much run the house on her own. Okay, the power had been cut off and the water didn't work in the kitchen, but she was coping and if it hadn't been for the nosy landlords Ruby would have been fine until her mother came home, whenever that was. With child services involved, though, Ruby was delivered to her sister Cora's care until she was eighteen, only a few months away.
Cora, who protected her from their mother's drunken rantings, physical attacks and general neglect. Protected her until Cora left for college, that was - left and never looked back. Now a lawyer working with at-risk children, Cora's moved up in the world - she and her husband Jamie have a huge house and plenty of money. As soon as Ruby can she'll vault the fence and take care of herself again.
This beautiful, engaging and deeply satisfying novel has much more going on than my brief summation above. Its primary theme is introduced as a semester assignment, where each student in Ruby's exclusive new school draws a word out of a bag and has to explore the many definitions it has for a spectrum of people. Ruby's word is "family" - the first peron she discusses it woth replies (in part) "if something's wrong with you , you can usually trace it back to them." Through Lock and Key she discovers the many meanings it has, concluding that:
[Family are] the people who claimed you. In good, in bad, in parts or in whole, they were the ones who showed up, who stayed there regardless. It wasn't just about blood relations or shared chromosomes, but something wider, something bigger... we had many families over time. Our families of origin, the family we created, as well as the groups you moved though while all of this was happening: friends, lovers, sometimes even strangers... You couldn't make any one person your world. The trick was to take what each could give you and build a world from it.
All of which makes Lock and Key sound very Worthy, and that does this YA novel a disservice. Ruby is one of the most real, engaging protagonists I've come across for a while, and the novel is more than just Ruby's journey against a background of secondary characters. Each of the other central characters are not only equally layered and complex but are on their own developing paths.
The issues Dessen raises are significant and relevant. Although teen sex, drug and alcohol use are present, they occur without judgement while the focus is on more interesting and less travelled problems - abuse, acceptance, how things look and how things are, responsibility and accountability, friendship, trust, history and the need to rewrite it, and a whole lot of other things that really spoke to me.
This is the first of Dessen's novels I've read, but it most certainly won't be the last. - Alex

No comments: