I remember the first time I picked up a Sarah Dessen book. Sixth grade, in my middle school library, I can even remember which shelf it was on. That Summer, with it’s yellow binding caught my attention immediately. The front cover had a drawn picture of a girl, and a punch buggy in the background. I fell in love with Dessen’s writing, at once. Then the Sunday, the day before the first day of college, bid day, I met one of my favorite friends in the whole world – Leah. Freshman year we quickly discovered our shared appreciation for the young adult lit world, but particularly Sarah Dessen. She let me borrow Lock and Key and The Truth About Forever. I devoured them in that little twin bed in the corner of my fifth floor dorm (I had a lot of time on my hands about the second week of school when I caught something terrible that left me sick and struggling to breathe in bed for days.) I say all of this because here I am, at 28 now, still devouring Dessen’s each freshly released novel. (And Leah and I still discuss them like we did ten years ago.) I always have this struggle with wanting to read books at exactly the right time. I figured it was fate that the library had an e-book of Dessen’s latest – Saint Anything right before my trip to Jersey. So, it was time to dust off the old Kindle, and from the Panama City, Atlanta, and Philadelphia airports and planes, and cozy lazy November mornings, Saint Anything was a great companion.
I’ll say, I think this is one of Sarah Dessen’s grittiest novels to date. Sydney has long lived in the shadow of her ever charming, popular, but at times wreckless older brother Peyton. The story begins in a court room at Peyton’s sentencing for an act that will shake the family’s lives, and beyond. His mistake has changed the path of an innocent teenager. Sydney is well aware of the consequences, and the story unfolds as she tries to live her life carrying the guilt of her brother’s actions. Sydney’s mom buries herself in the acts of trying to bring “normalcy” to her relationship with her son, as if he’s just received detention and not serving time. Sydney’s dad pours himself into his work, and when he is home, silently goes along with her mom. This is why, though scary, Sydney welcomes a change of scenery by switching to a new school (mostly because of the cost of her expensive school being too much to go along with all of the court costs.) Basically seeking an alternative from heading straight home after school to afternoons of binge watching Real Housewives, and trying to pass the lonely hours before dinner – she finds herself at a local pizza shop, Seaside. Here she meets a fabulous family, and soon, before she even realizes it – she’s started a friendship with siblings Mac and Layla. Sometimes, you meet people who just “get it.” And you don’t know why you’re revealing personal information, and trusting strangers with intimate details about your life – but you are. Perhaps a sense of safety or familiarity or comfort in their warmly chaotic lives, nudged Sydney in the right direction.
Sydney builds a new life for herself at Jackson High School. She finds herself in new friendships she can confide in. She doesn’t have to just be “Peyton’s little sister,” and she’s no longer invisible.
Saint Anything untangles some heavy truths. Having hard conversations, facing things that have been easier to avoid, taking the leap of trusting and investing in new friendships and relationships, and seeing how the good can grow.
I don’t want to spoil it by divulging anymore, but Saint Anything was a fun read and I think Sydney’s character matured throughout the novel. It feels like we can always count on Dessen to provide a story with characters that you want to be friends with, and advice you can take to heart. Long anticipated and not disappointing in the slightest – it made me excited to see what direction Dessen will go next. If you haven’t got your hands on a copy of Saint Anything yet, I highly recommend checking it out!
Also, watch this adorable book trailer: