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Literature / Lock and Key

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Lock and Key is a 2008 young adult novel by Sarah Dessen.

After being abandoned by her addict mother, Ruby Cooper is placed in the care of her long-lost older sister, Cora, and brother-in-law, Jamie. Used to fending for herself in near-poverty, Ruby is immediately suspicious of her new affluent neighborhood, private school, and attentive guardians. With her future looking brighter, Ruby slowly adjusts to her new life of privilege— and grows closer with Nate, a neighbor and classmate —and realizes that it is okay to let people in.


This novel contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Ruby and Cora's mother.
    • Nate's father, Blake.
  • The Alcoholic: Ruby's mother.
  • Anti-Hero: Ruby.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Averted. Ruby suspects that her parents were trying to invoke this trope with her due to the large age difference between her and Cora, but it obviously did not work out; they divorced when she was five and things went downhill from there.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Ruby's mother is reportedly found near the end of the novel and goes to rehab, and for a little bit it seems like Ruby is thinking of visiting her, but this never happens; instead, Ruby sends her mother her college acceptance letter.
  • Beta Couple: Harriet and Reggie.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Cora went out of her way to protect Ruby when they were younger and spent years afterwords trying to get back in contact with her. Then she agrees to take care of her once it becomes clear their mother has abandoned her.
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  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Peyton.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Gervais, but he grows out of it.
  • Cinderella Circumstances: Ruby comes from these; she has a poor home life that only gets worse after her mother runs off and abandons her. In something of an inversion of the actual fairy tale, Ruby is rescued from these circumstances in the first chapter and gets what most girls in her situation would give anything for—a better home, money, a new private school, and a cute neighbor who seems to take to her—but is initially resistant and uninterested to all of it.
  • Commonality Connection: Ruby constantly lampshades how different she and Nate are, but they do eventually find something to bond over: their respective abusive parents.
  • Continuity Nod: Ruby hears Annabel from Just Listen on the radio at one point.
    • Mallory and her friends, also from Just Listen, are seen shopping at the jewelry stand, as are Kristy and Bert from The Truth About Forever.
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  • Contrived Coincidence: Ruby has an abusive mother, and then it turns out her love interest has an abusive father.
  • Control Freak: Harriet. It takes her forever to hire someone because she rejects all her applicants on trivial details, spends hours re-doing things she asks Ruby to do to make it "just right" and all she ever thinks about is her business.
  • Cool Big Sis: Cora.
  • Cry Cute: Happens to Ruby.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Ruby. Her neglectful and sometimes abusive mother treated her horribly throughout her childhood, routinely uprooted her and moved them around constantly, forcibly kept her and her kind older sister Cora apart, and then abandoned her. Ruby lived on her own for months, supporting herself in near poverty. She finally gets a break when she's discovered and is put into Cora's custody. Cora shares some of this past, mainly the abuse, which she usually took on behalf of the young and defenseless Ruby.
  • Declaration of Protection: Cora to Ruby, who would step between her sister and their mother and take the brunt of her abuse. She even does this when Jamie is yelling at Ruby for ditching school and getting drunk; Ruby looks up to see Cora standing in between them.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Ruby when Cora points out that Ruby was not only abandoned by her mother, but she did everything she could to turn Ruby against her big sister, then left Ruby before Ruby could leave her.
  • Everyone Can See It:
    • Ruby and Nate.
    • Harriet and Reggie.
  • Fair Weather Friend: Peyton for Ruby.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Nate's dad plays the perfect neighbor in public, but behind closed doors he verbally and physically abuses Nate. Ruby also catches him trying to hurt Cora's dog, Roscoe.
  • Friends with Benefits: Ruby and Marshall, although Ruby never quite has a label for their relationship and it ends about halfway through the book to clear things up for her to fall in love with Nate.
  • Kick the Dog: Ruby sees Nate's father threaten Cora's dog. This is one of the first hints we get of something being wrong with him.
  • Lady Drunk: Ruby's mother.
  • Meganekko: Laney.
  • Not Good with People: Ruby, at least at first.
  • Parental Abandonment: Ruby's mother abandons her when she's 17. Ruby's father is already long gone; she only has a few vague memories of him before he suddenly left the picture. Cora later reveals that he did initially try to provide child support and continue visiting, but Ruby's mother dodged him and he ended up giving up as a result.
  • Parental Substitute: Cora takes on a maternal role for Ruby, but Ruby isn't willing to accept it at first.
  • Promotion to Parent: Ruby's sister Cora comes in and cares for her after her mother leaves.
  • Properly Paranoid: Subverted; Ruby feels uncomfortable around her mother's boyfriend, Warner, despite a lack of concrete evidence, but he disappears from the novel before we get a chance to find out if her fears are well-founded.
  • Rules of Orphan Economics: Ruby lives in a single parent household until her mother disappears. She attempts to work and go to school until she turns 18. Unfortunately a social worker comes and forces her to move in with her older sister.
  • Shipper on Deck: Somewhat hypocritically, Ruby gradually becomes one for Harriet and Reggie, despite the fact Ruby herself is annoyed that everyone thinks she's involved with Nate.
  • Stepford Snarker: Ruby.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Ruby and Peyton have some shades of this.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Ruby.
  • Underwater Kiss: How Ruby and Nate share their first kiss.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Jamie chews Ruby out when the latter has a Heroic BSoD over her mother abandoning her, skips school and eventually returns home drunk, even going so far as to all but outright call her an Ungrateful Bastard. Cora, meanwhile, is more sympathetic.
  • With Friends Like These...: Peyton.


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