Book Talk: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

I received this book for free from BEA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Talk: Saint Anything by Sarah DessenSaint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Published by Viking Juvenile on May 5, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 417
Format: Hardcover
Source: BEA
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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.

You know, I really wasn’t expecting to end up loving my Sarah Dessen binge this much, especially after the rough start. I guess maybe it’s a bit of hipster millennial suspicion of anything super popular? And maybe also that she was actually writing YA when I WAS a teen, back when there wasn’t much of it and most of it was not great. I don’t know, but I was wrong, because this binge is awesome and Sarah Dessen’s great. My expectations were super low going into Saint Anything, despite having loved most of her books from book 5 on, solely because the cover is dark and depressing-looking.In actuality, the cover’s a bit misleading; this book matches the tone of her other novels: sometimes sad, sometimes adorable, and always real.

Having read the book, I actually even have an appreciation for the cover now, because, unlike most covers, especially these Dessen covers, it’s taken directly from the book. There’s a night-time scene with a carousel, but the scene’s funny and cute, not ominous like it appears on the cover.

Continuing the trend, Sydney’s a fairly closed off heroine, though she does have some good friends. Because Sydney’s  older brother has always been charismatic, Sydney’s been used to being a bit invisible to the world at large and especially to her parents. When her brother, who has been acting out in increasingly terrible ways ends up going to jail for a drunk driving accident that put a boy in a wheelchair for life, Sydney’s  suddenly visible in negative ways.

To escape the gossip, Sydney transfers from her private school to public school, hoping to go back to invisibility. Instead, she finds new friends, ones who challenge her and invigorate her more than her old friends. She basically befriends a whole family, the Chathams, who run a pizza place in town.

Saint Anything is basically a found family story. The Chathams ends up providing the emotional support, the love, and the understanding that Sydney’s  not getting at home, because her parents remain so focused on her brother. Their family is warm, boisterous, and bursts off the page. This book has one of my favorite Dessen casts. When Layla stayed over to help protect Sydney from Ames, the creep her parents trust for no good reason, I got the feels big time. I also really love that, in the course of making new friends, Sydney doesn’t simply drop her old friends.

In a lot of ways, Sydney also finds her own family again. Her mother and father put all of their energy into Peyton, and they’ve ignored her because he was so much more exciting and in need of guidance. Even with him in prison for doing something terrible, Sydney’s mom spends all her time trying to communicate with him or help him, and Sydney’s full of anger that even now he can do no wrong. When they do notice her, they punish her for Peyton’s crimes, while not acknowledging that she’s very different. This story line is a long and frustrating one, but unfortunately very believable. Peyton’s emotional arc with her mother and brother really worked for me.

The romance between Mac and Sydney is a precious slow burn, and I love how non-dramatic it mostly is. Sure, there’s an impending bust-up because he’s her new bestie’s brother, but ultimately this plot line is handed in a pretty chill way. Mac’s such a good guy, and I love that, even when things get difficult for them, there’s no drama, no arguing, no consideration of an ending.

It’s hard to pick a favorite Sarah Dessen for me, but I can say this one’s towards the top of the list. It’s one of the more romantic ones, and the whole supporting cast is fantastically drawn. Also, in case you were worried, like I was a bit, this book isn’t really religious. I actually liked the use of “Saint Anything” in the plot.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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