For many teen girls, it just wouldn’t be summer without a new Sarah Dessen novel to kick back with. Happily, the bestselling author—whose books have combined sales of over four million copies—won’t be disappointing any of her fans this year. Her latest, Along for the Ride (Viking), goes on sale June 16 with a 250,000-copy first printing. The book finds 18-year-old Auden spending a summer in a beach town with her father and his new family (as well as some interesting new friends), blissfully far away from her over-demanding mom.

Like its eight predecessors, Along for the Ride offers the kind of real-life relationship drama that Dessen’s readers find irresistible. “She knows her audience very well,” says Carol Moyer, manager of the children’s department at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, N.C. “She writes about all the joys and heartaches of being a teenager today. But her books aren’t ‘issues stories’—they’re engaging stories, and issues are just a natural part.”

Dessen will make an appearance at Quail Ridge, not far from her hometown of Chapel Hill, on June 18 as part of a national tour that also includes stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Chicago. Moyer says everyone at her store is thrilled to be hosting an author they “enjoy very much.” Dessen has an “increasingly large and enthusiastic fan group here,” Moyer continues. “We get close to 100 people—mostly high school girls—when she visits. The book will do well for us.”

Other stores have Dessen fever, too, according to Allison Verost, senior publicist for Penguin Young Readers Group. “Each event will be different,” she says. “Some are planning ticketed dinners, beach parties, and teen concerts. Copperfield’s in Sebastopol is hosting Sarah for a Pie, Coffee, and Bike Night party, while Books Inc. [in San Francisco] is hosting a special Not Your Mother’s Brunch party.”

Sarah Dessen.
Photo: KPO Photo.

Beyond the tour, Penguin has extensive plans for getting Along for the Ride into the sales fast lane, reaching out to the fan base that won’t be seeing Dessen in person. Among the highlights are roadblock ads on major teen Web sites with free chapter downloads and iPhone applications, and a social media campaign that includes Facebook and the YA blog community. Existing fans will have an opportunity to read chapters from the book before it hits shelves and new fans will receive exclusive content from Dessen.

Fans will also find plenty to love at Sarah-land, an online Sarah Dessen universe with interactive maps, exclusive author access, user-generated video content, and a forum where fans can discuss characters, favorite scenes, and make plans to meet up at Sarah’s events.

And adding a particularly summer-flavored touch, the Hamptons Luxury Liner Bus, which makes runs from Manhattan to the beach communities on Long Island, will be wrapped in the book’s cover art, inviting Hamptons-bound readers to “Come Along for the Ride with Sarah Dessen!”

Regina Hayes, president and publisher of Viking, is confident that Dessen’s loyal following will turn out for all the hoopla—and more importantly, embrace the new novel. “It’s a story of summertime reinvention, plus a return to Colby, the beach town where Keeping the Moon was set,” she notes. “It will be exciting for readers to see Auden break free of her powerful mother and become her own person. Who hasn’t longed to become a different person over the summer?”

Along for the Ride

by Sarah Dessen. Viking, $19.99 ISBN 978-0-670-01194-0