The plan was to read them in chronological order but unfortunately Australia isn’t as appreciative of Sarah Dessen as America. As such I am going to work my way backwards from the most recent to the first published novel, That Summer.
“I was braced for pink. Ruffles or quilting, or maybe ever applique.”
Our first introduction to our protagonist, Ruby, is her musing that her new room is probably one of those heinous, ‘dream bedroom’ monstrosities. It would be my nightmare too. In my head Ruby was worried her room might look something like this, which you know would be my own personal circle of hell. Let’s face it applique is a tool of the devil. I feel her pain. Instead she finds a green bedroom with soothing views of the backyard complete with her own boulder circle Stonehenge. I breathed a sigh of relief for her. No one, no matter what they have done, deserves a pink, ruffled room (unless of course they want one).
I also found it interesting that of the couple that have brought Ruby into their home, we met her brother-in-law, Jamie first, rather than her sister Cora. It emphasised the distance in their relationship, the awkwardness and fragility of their tenuous bond.
What amazed me is my immediate liking of Jamie. Any guy that that would be taking the lead in an obviously high tension relationship deserves some credit. That he’s trying to diffuse the tension with jokes, showing Ruby her new room and speaks a lot about this guy. Cora, however is a completely different kettle of fish. While superficially it may seem that Jamie is the ‘boss’ in this family with his taking the lead in the house and talking with the counselor, it really is Cora who’s the dominant one. Standing back, arms crossed taking in her sister move into her house you can tell with that minute description of her stance that she is bracing herself. For what I am unsure – it could be a myriad of feelings from hurt, anger or even loving her sister? It is amazing that in such a relatively casual throwaway line about Cora, made me see her very clearly. Her first line of dialogue in the novel is
“It’s cold,” she said. “You should come inside.”
I find it fascinating that she herself is coming across as such a cold person while obviously caring about her sister. Then again I could be reading too much into this single line. The juxtaposition is really intriguing and I want to know more about these sisters.
We quickly discover that these sisters have not been in contact for ten years and that of late Ruby has been living with her mother in a small, yellow farmhouse. I saw an interview where Sarah Dessen discusses that the farmhouse was inspired by a place where she and her husband resided after they graduated college. The eventual destruction of this house combined with the rising of a new real estate development resulted in her conception of Lock and Key (Interview is here.)
I personally imagine this farmhouse something like this but smaller and rundown. I can imagine the relief Ruby would have felt seeing this place after a succession of dodgy apartments and rent jumping. Her mother sounds like a real piece of work and although I have read nothing to relate to Ruby on a personal level as yet, I feel for her. A women who seems intermittantly interested in her daughter with a penchant for losers and a healthy case of paranoia. She apparently has no money for rent but she can buy an everlasting supply of cigarettes? Okay I am getting off my soapbox. The yellow house was apparently Ruby’s first sense of permanence in a long time but as we know it wasn’t going to last. The Honeycutts, an older, incessitantly nice couple sound lovely but I have to side with Ruby’s mom on this one. I, too, am distrustful of forever happy, nice and smiley people – the cynic in me I guess. Soon we discover that the Honeycutt’s busybodying behaviour was the reason Ruby’s two months of neglect and isolation was detected. There is some evidence of denial on Ruby’s part with her noting that –
“…whoever had written the it (the report) has embellished, for some reason needing to make it sound worse than it actually was.”
Reading her justification for why this report was embellished after the fact is interesting. Ruby seems to be absolving her mother’s choice to leave and to minimise the horrible living circumstances she was relegated to live alone in. My disdain for her mother continues to grow. The change, the move between squalor and a gated comunity must be outright terrifying. Living with a sister you haven’t seen in ten years must be terrifying. At least when she was alone she knew she could count on herself. It is no wonder that she experiences some panic at the looming life she now has been forced into unwillingly.
The necklace is introduced. A thin, silver chain with a jagged key hanging from it. When Ruby is decribing it I couldn’t help but wonder if that key represents her complete with “jagged bumps”.
The normalcy and formality of Cora’s house begins to unnerve Ruby and I can’t say I blame her. She’s not prepared in any way for a sit down dinner with beautiful, expensive crockery, silverware and cloth napkins. This is a whole new world for her and she isn’t even there willingly. On the other hand it shows how far Cora has come. We know nothing about Cora’s part with Ruby but we can presume that she existed in the same ramshankle life that Ruby did. What prompted the separation? What did Cora achieved in their time apart and why had she cut off communication with her sister?
Roscoe the dog appears to have more “toys” than I. I am jealous.
Not only does Ruby have a new life, new house, new family but she has to start a new private school mid-semester. I don’t envy her at all. I did this myself and it is about as fun as piercing your ear with a meat cleaver. With relief I also realise that Cora works, she isn’t the trophy wife that I was prepared to despise. Jamie offers to drive Ruby to school and she professes she’d prefer to take the bus. I am beginnning to wonder about her sanity, public transport is scary and only tolerable when an iPod is possessed.
Feeling that this life isn’t her deal, Ruby decides to run for it and I sort of imagined her Mission Impossible-stealthy run across the rolling lawn and dodging Stonehenge. All very giggleworthy really, as was Jamie’s congratulating of Roscoe’s successful bladder emptying. As she begins to shimmy over the fence she comes across a studly Nate who saves her from admitting her plan to Jamie. Now Nate is “kind of cute, in a rich-boy way” which is all nice and dandy but he hasn’t captured my interest yet. Her plan now altered she will have to go to school.