Paperback, 448 pages.
Release date: May 5th 2014.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
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.
For as long as she can remember, Sydney Stanford has lived her life in the shadows of her older brothers’ daring greatness. But, where once Peyton was the boy who would accept any challenge and never renege on a dare, lately his behaviour has gotten out of control, culminating in a drunk driving incident which leaves another boy paralyzed. Now, with Peyton serving jail time, Sydney and her parents must pick up the pieces of their fractured lives. Determined to not be an extra financial burden on her parents, Sydney, ever thoughtful and considerate, leaves her expensive private school to take up a place at the local public school, Jackson High. Here, maybe Sydney can be her own person; not just Peyton Stanford’s little sister. Here, maybe Sydney can become the person she is inside: the person she’s kept hidden away inside for so long.
Sarah Dessen is the queen of feel good, comfort reads: she has little time for drama, but instead likes to focus on the importance of the everyday; the little things, like a smile from a cute boy, or the importance of family ties. Her characters are multi-layered and read oh-so-real. The friends that Sydney makes at her new school are some of the greatest supporting-characters I have read. Layla, who never forgets a face, takes Sydney under her wing when they meet one day at her Dad’s pizza place, introducing the new girl to a circle of friends, which includes her brother Mac. Mac, is super-good-looking, but unaware of the fact –always a good sign. No nonsense Layla, with her penchant for bad boys and complicated relationship with French fries was a huge favourite of mine – and a great friend to Sydney, too.
There is an ominous presence in this book, one who creates conflict and tension in Sydney’s home life and a real sense of foreboding whenever the two are alone. Ames, an older guy, is Peyton’s best friend, and for Sydney’s mom, a way to keep her absent son close to her heart. To us, and to Sydney, Ames is a creep. Alarm bells ring whenever he enters the fray, and I have to say, I had a really, really bad feeling about this guy. Sydney’s parents though, they don’t. They trust Ames (with his shady background) to stay with their teenage daughter while they are away. They welcome him into their home. This really made me feel for Sydney. It made me angry that her parents, so preoccupied with their own issues, don’t see right through this guy. Any time Ames was in a scene I just felt uneasy and I spent my time wishing that Sydney would just tell her parents that she felt uncomfortable around Ames. But Sydney doesn’t want to be a burden. She doesn’t want to add to her parents problems.
Peyton is the problem child here, not Sydney, but even though Peyton isn’t around, his presence looms large in the Stanford house. Sydney lives with the guilt of what Peyton did, while her mother makes constant excuses for his behaviour, and her dad completely checks out of the whole parenting thing. When she makes even the littlest mistake – believe me Sydney doesn’t often step out of line – she is punished to the extreme, and all because of her wayward brothers’ mistakes. It’s a hard knock life and Sydney should be commended for how she deals with it all so calmly and so maturely.
Before I read Saint Anything, I had heard that this book was a darker affair than some of Dessen’s other offerings. True, Dessen is known for her summer romances, but she doesn’t shy away from tough subjects either. Here, though, I felt that the book, with all its ominous sense of foreboding, lacked a punch right at the end. Saint Anything also lacked a little swoon: Now, I know that Dessen’s books are quite wholesome, but sometimes I think that this author could crank the swoon factor up a notch. Dessen writes some very cute boys, but her romances sometimes err too much on the side of caution. Here, Sydney and Mac have a sweet friendship turned first-love thing going on, but as readers, we are not privy to the whispered sweet nothings of their romance. What can I say? I wanted more.
Overall, despite my gripe at the lack of swoon, Saint Anything is a joy to read, a book that tackles some tough issues, but one which will leave you feeling all warm and happy inside too. Also, if you’re anything like me, this book will make you crave pizza. So much. I suggest you hit up Domino’s before you settle down to read this one!
Question: I’ve now read The Truth About Forever, The Moon and More and Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen. Which of her books should I read next?