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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Sarah Dessen writes for young adults, and when she's on vacation on a road trip, she has only a few requirements: air conditioning that works, plentiful snacks and something to read, something good. And for our series Three Books, here's what Dessen suggests for your next family outing.

Ms. SARAH DESSEN (Author, "Along for the Ride"): When I was a kid, my family drove from North Carolina to Cape Cod every summer. The trip took about 14 hours or so. We were all ready to kill each other by Connecticut. There's just something about being in the car with your family with no options for escape that can make even the most levelheaded person consider jumping out the window.

One of my favorite remedies for all this togetherness was a book. Even if you're stuck in a minivan on the turnpike, a story can take you anywhere.

When you're crammed in a car with your nearest and dearest, perspective is important, which is why you'll need a good celebrity memoir, such as Valerie Bertinelli's "Losing It: And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time." Sure, your family's difficult, but what if you were married to Eddie Van Halen and addicted to frozen jalapeno poppers?

Bertinelli's book covers her rise as a teenage TV star, her marriage to the famed guitarist and a lifelong struggle with weight and body issues, plus, you hear about everything from having groupies banging on the door in the middle of the night to breaking up with Steven Spielberg because he didn't like garlic. Spend a few hours with Bertinelli, and you'll be grateful your biggest problem is a backup on I-95.

If tempers flare in the car, though, you'll need a good cautionary tale. So be sure to pack "The Stranger Beside Me" by Ann Rule. Rule met the serial killer Ted Bundy when they were co-workers at a crisis line in the early '70s.

As a crime writer, she continued to closely follow his life once she discovered he was responsible for the murders of several young girls. Rule covers all the case details, as well as how she kept in contact with Bundy until his execution, and her account is chilling.

Your brother might be making you contemplate violence by crossing the imaginary line you drew between yourselves on the back seat, but crime does not pay. Just scoot closer to the window and take a deep breath.

Finally, when you're sure you just can't take another second, break out the mother of all dysfunctional family stories, Pat Conroy's "The Prince of Tides."

Tom Wingo is a broken man dealing with the memories of an abusive father and a dark family secret. When his sister attempts suicide, he is forced to dig into his own past to make sense of hers. This saga of a South Carolina clan has it all: crazy mothers, violent fathers, pet tigers, sibling drama and crosses literally being borne.

Conroy is an incredible storyteller, able to handle both emotion and humor with the same deft hand. It's a dark, crazy masterpiece.

When you finish these three books, you'll have more appreciation for your own clan and their more minor idiosyncrasies. In fact, once you've arrived at your destination, you might be surprised by how you look back on the family road trip. There are times I even miss those long, hot drives of my childhood. The worst of the traffic and fighting have faded. Now, like a book, only a good story remains.

NORRIS: Sarah Dessen is the author of several books for young adults. Her latest is, get this, "Along for the Ride."

All this summer, NPR is asking listeners to share their ideas for vacations that can be done on a budget of $100 a day or less. If you've got a hot tip on a great budget vacation spot, please let us know at npr.org.

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