Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?
Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.
The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.
I hereby dedicate my first sentence to that carousel cover because it is glorious.
But okay, let’s proceed. I have never expected myself to breeze through a 400-paged novel in the middle of the night, especially not when I only read it on a whim but I should have known better. This is Sarah Dessen after all.
I have been one of her “legions of fans” immediately after I read The Truth About Forever. I have read book after book thereafter and I was never disappointed. So far, I’ve only read four of her works – The Truth About Forever, Just Listen, Along for the Ride, and Keeping the Moon – and I have fallen in love with young adult contemporary ever since.
Now, Saint Anything is Sarah Dessen’s 12th novel. If I were to describe it in words, I’d say this book was strangely addicting and highly relatable. If you’re familiar with her body of work, you would know that her stories usually involve romance with aspects of family and friendship. You would also know that the story builds a little slowly but the turn of events and the endings are always something to look forward to.
There are a lot of things I liked about Saint Anything. For one, the story tries to establish a direct connection with the reader. It doesn’t waste time going around in circles and just gives you thought after thought, event after event. It’s the type of storytelling that does not allow you time to ponder so much (as this increases the likelihood of you putting it down), it only asks you to do one thing: turn the page.
The characters are flawed, as they should be. Sydney has always been in her brother’s shadow. She thinks she’s invisible until she’s not. Mac is awfully stiff as far as his family and his past (his diet too if I may add) are concerned. Peyton is a dark mystery. I was only able to piece his thoughts together near the end. Ames is a creep. Layla has her own bouts of impulsiveness. And don’t even get me started on Sydney’s parents. Denial and control do not even come close to describing those two.
What’s different about Saint Anything is it does not focus on the romance (Do not be discouraged, romance fans! It’s still there along with the butterflies.) It sets the spotlight on themes that are usually made as side dishes in other novels. It tells you about family, self-identity, forgiveness, change, and acceptance among others. It gives you the chance to relate to the characters’ stories, how they act, why they think the way they do.
One might argue that the characters seem familiar. Sydney for instance reminds me of Macy from The Truth About Forever. Sydney’s parents remind me of Auden’s from Along for the Ride, although just a little. The plot is simple and may be too predictable for some but I thought it did not have any bearing on the impact of the story.
Conflicts and resolutions are clearly highlighted, how the characters acted in the face of unwanted changes, anger, guilt, and compassion. There was no room for those cliche, stupid decisions that characters tend to make. There are only real ones that despite being emotion-led are as justifiable as they could be.
Saint Anything alternated between light and dark tones but it was not so ambitious as to venture into something that it’s not. With an engaging story, a relatable set of characters, and a straightforward narration, Sarah Dessen was able to again create a tale that will tug at anyone’s heartstrings, this time with romance on the side.
Oh, I almost forgot. I kept trying to figure out what the title was about. When I found out, I thought it was amazing. *winks*
Favorite Quotes from Saint Anything:
The future was one thing that could never be broken, because it had not yet had the chance to be anything.
You only really fall apart in front of the people you know can piece you back together.
Suddenly, I felt so helpless. If I hated the crowds but also my own company, where did that leave me?
I was used to being invisible. People rarely saw me, and if they did, they never looked close. I wasn’t shiny and charming like my brother, stunning and graceful like my mother, or smart and dynamic like my friends. That’s the thing, though. You always think you want to be noticed. Until you are.