Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Review: 'Saint Anything'

Sarah Dessen has been one of my favorite authors since my sister first gave me a copy of Keeping the Moon when I was a young teen. For that reason, every time she publishes a new book I read it with excitement and high expectations. And, overall, I really haven’t been disappointed. (This Lullaby and Dreamland wouldn’t go on my favorites list, but they still have their merits.) So when I heard about Saint Anything, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

The descriptions I’d read before it came out said Saint Anything was different from Dessen’s other novels, and Amazon calls it her “deepest and most psychologically probing novel yet.” Dessen has never shied away from the hard topics in her books, ranging from death and addiction to eating disorders and rape. Usually it’s her main characters who directly face these situations, but in Saint Anything, the main character, Sydney, is actually the bystander of a terrible event.

Sydney is the Classic Good Girl. She does her homework, she cleans the kitchen after dinner, and she does what her parents ask her to do. Her older brother Peyton, on the other hand, is in jail for drunk driving, after causing an accident that left a boy paralyzed. Peyton has been on a downward spiral for years, but this is the accident that changes all of their lives. As Sydney struggles with the devastation her brother has caused, she’s also forced to deal with her parents and their ever-tightening grip on her.

While her mom is focusing all of her own time and energy on how to make Peyton feel happy and acclimated to his “new life” in prison, all Sydney wants is to get away. She ventures into a new pizza place after school one day and meets Mac and Layla Chatham, two siblings who bring Sydney into their family as if she were their own. Being taken in by the Chatham family and Mac and Layla’s circle of friends turns out to be more of a blessing than Sydney could have imagined. But when one incident causes her parents to think Mac and Layla are a bad influence on Sydney, she’s grounded with a strict punishment that can only be described as completely unfair, especially in the light of her brother’s track record.

Saint Anything was, at times, intense, sweet, heartwarming and angering. I thoroughly enjoyed the plot and the story’s concept, because it was an emotional look at Sydney’s psyche after her life is inexplicably altered by something she has no control over. Throw in the fact that her parents have all but forgotten she’s a separate person who needs attention and separation from the person her brother was, and you get this sort of heart-wrenching story of a dysfunctional family that just can't see reality for what it is.

The part that made me most angry was Sydney’s character, because there’s a difference between Classic Good Girl and Scared Pushover, and for most of the book she fell into the latter category (of which I am never a fan). It’s understandable that she would be quieter and less willing to ask for what she wants when her family dynamic is so fragile, but there were times when she just wouldn't stand up for herself, even when she was undoubtedly in the right — and every time she didn't, it drove me nuts. 

This book was great. It was beautifully written (as always) and full of emotions, which Dessen always navigates so perfectly. I loved that Saint Anything was Sydney's story and not her brother's, because it was a very real aspect of that sort of situation that doesn't get told. If you've ever read and liked Sarah Dessen's books before, I think you'll love this one. If you've never read one of her books before, I think this is a great one to start with.

Have you read it? What did you think? Leave your comments below...I'd love to hear!

P.S. Paper Towns, The Vacationers, The Girl on the Train and Crazy Rich Asians

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