TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Sarah Dessen has acquired such a loyal group of readers that any review of her latest novel, "Lock and Key," will likely have zero effect on her circulation stats or sales figures. But since I really loved the story, maybe it'll attract some new readers to her!
Ok, so I'm about to heap praise on the book. First, though, one small negative point. I had a minor issue with the fact that several plot elements seem to have been recycled from "Keeping the Moon" (as in, emotionally detached girl gets shipped off to formerly unknown relative's house where she meets kind-hearted, attractive neighbor with angry, abusive father). Just saying.
With that criticism aside, "Lock and Key" is lovely, heartwarming, touching, and wholly believable. In other words, it's a Sarah Dessen novel, and her audience of high school girls will adore it. The basic plot outline here has high school senior Ruby being placed by child services in her estranged older sister's care after mom up and leaves one day. To survive life with a chaotic, unstable, alcoholic mom, Ruby has put up tons of walls around herself, none of which she'll let down easily. She blames her long missing sister, Cora, for abandoning her as a young girl, and she views all her new classmates at private school as one-dimensional, boring rich kids.
Over the course of the year, we see Ruby grow and begin to accept her new family, new friends, and herself. It's all so gradual, with many missteps and bruised feelings along the way, that you will absolutely accept Ruby's personal transformation. As I mentioned above, there's also a super-cute neighbor, Nate, whom Ruby immediately dismisses as a rich brat. Not true! Nate, like Ruby, is a believably complex, hurting, but still hopeful character. In other words, you'll love him, and you'll root for Ruby letting him into her life … and vice versa. The direction of Ruby and Nate's relationship actually surprised me a bit, although I guess I should've seen that Nate might need some saving as well.
With winning characters, gentle symbolism, an inspiring story arc, and beautiful writing, I have no hesitation recommending "Lock and Key" to girls in grades 8 and up. Younger girls will also likely enjoy the story, but they should be warned that, although handled with subtlety, there are several adult scenes in the novel.