Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Published May 5, 2015 by Viking Juvenile
Hardcover, 417 pages
Borrowed from library

(synopsis from

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.

All I have to say is that now I really REALLY regret passing up on the 40% discount I saw on this book at Indigo a few weeks back because WOW.

Just kidding, I have more to say because I ALWAYS have more to say. But where to start when there is so much to cover?

Why don't I start here: I was hesitant going into Saint Anything because the few Sarah Dessens I had read before this, of late, were not very good. Not in the sense that the writing was bad (because Sarah Dessens never have bad writing), just in the sense that I started to get this feeling that her stories followed a certain pattern. It became formulaic and I got bored. Even well loved books like Lock and Key and Along for the Ride did nothing for me. I don't know whyy, I just didn't really connect with any of the characters or the story. I didn't feel the same magic I did when I read The Truth About Forever or This Lullaby, two of my favourite Sarah Dessens. But still I read on, even as I felt pretty meh over most of the books that I read. Why did I do this? FOR THE HOPE THAT I WOULD FIND ANOTHER BOOK THAT WOULD STRIKE THAT SAME MAGIC FEELING IN ME THAT THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER AND THIS LULLABY DID. AND GUESS WHAT? I FOUND IT, IN SAINT ANYTHING.

I was SCARED. I didn't want to be let down again especially when there was just so much promise for this book. And I wasn't let down and that made me so so happy. See, I knew - I JUST KNEW - I would find another Sarah Dessen I would love ONE DAY. Because Sarah Dessen at her best DOES EVERYTHING RIGHT. Her writing is on point, her characters are well fleshed out and always AUTHENTIC, her storyline is tight and she always manages to deal with maybe some more sensitive issues with great poise and sophistication. Those are qualities I look for in great contemporaries (or in great books PERIOD), they're what I think about when I think of what a great contemporary looks like and they're what Sarah Dessen has learned how to do PERFECTLY. Admittedly there have been some books of hers that I haven't enjoyed as much, where I felt like maybe there was something missing, but looking at some of my favourite books of hers, she always has that perfect balance of great characters, great plot, great writing and a really strong emotional attachment for the reader. 

Saint Anything had that. 

It had the great writing that was beautiful, introspective and seriously TUGGED on my HEARTSTRINGS. So many gorgeous lines in this book. So quotable. AND I LITERALLY DID NOT WANT TO PUT DOWN THIS BOOK FOR A SECOND. I started it one evening and just read until it was really too late for me to be up and still reading (midnight) so I had to put down the book and IT WAS SO SAD. Then the next day I woke up and the first thing I did was read the book but then I had to go out and be pried away from it again and IT WAS AGONY. Like honestly, I have not been this immersed in a book for a very very long time. Just every single time I wanted to keep reading until I finished. IT WAS THAT GOOD. And considering it's 400 pages (although I read an eBook version), I READ IT PRETTY FAST like in under 24 hours. SO AGAIN, proof that Sarah Dessen is a bombass writer.

It had the great story that I've come to expect with Sarah Dessens. Everything just wove together so beautifully, even the sub-plots just came together so nicely. HOW DOES SARAH DESSEN DO IT? Just looking back on it now, there definitely were a lot of different storylines going on. We had the main ongoing plot with Sydney and her parents dealing with older brother Peyton in jail but we also had one with Ames, Peyton's creepy friend; the Chathams and their crazy family and Mama Chatham with MS; Layla Chatham, Sydney's friend, and her relationship with a guy; Mac Chatham and his adventures with his band and the Chatham pizza business. There IS  a lot going on but never for one moment did I feel confused or overwhelmed and that is just a testament to how GOOD of a writer Sarah Dessen is, to be able to balance all those storylines and weave them together so well. 

It had the AMAZING CHARACTERS. Okay guys, you may want to sit down for this because y'all know that when it comes to characters, I am NOT messing around. I love my characters and they really do make or break a book for me. And Saint Anything's characters MADE the book for me. I just have so much love for all these characters. Even the unlikeable ones. They're written so well that I can't help but take a step back in admiration.

Let's start with Sydney, our main character. To be quite honest with you, I didn't really connect with Sydney all that much while I was reading the book. Her narration felt a little stiff for me and kinda like same old, same old (which I guess is one of the problems I have with Sarah Dessen books. The narration is very similar - it's good writing but similar - so when there isn't anything else going on that interests me like the plot or standout characters, I get bored). It felt like an adult in a teen's role, if that makes sense, it just felt a bit emotionless and detached BUT as the book progressed, this became better although I still didn't really connect with Sydney. I FELT for her though and I UNDERSTOOD her. I understood why she felt the way she did about Peyton and the accident and I felt for her when her parents turned a blind eye towards her. I felt for her when SHIT HIT THE FAN. Really, one of the best things about this book was watching Sydney slowly change and develop as she got to know the Chathams. It was beautiful to see her grow from a sorta meek, lonely girl into one who was funny and surrounded with great friends.

Another great thing about this book were the RELATIONSHIPS (I know I'm jumping around here but there's SO MUCH TO SAY). I loved the different relationships here. I loved seeing the friendship between Sydney and Layla. It was kinda my favourite thing ever. Layla was a character I immediately liked, her radiant personality felt like it was even radiating off the page. I liked how she and Sydney just clicked. I also liked Sydney's relationship with her old friend Jenn who honestly didn't leave very much of an impression on me until the later half of the book. 

Seeing the contrast in family dynamics was very interesting as well. On one hand we have the Stanfords, who are kinda dysfunctional and still trying to figure things out and adjust to this new development of Peyton in prison. Sydney's alone at home a lot, her parents don't pay attention to her and when they do, it's to be unfairly overbearing and strict on her like not allowing Sydney to hang out with Layla or the Chathams. It was difficult, I'm not gonna lie, to read about Sydney's mom just totally neglect and push away her interests and wants. But then we also got to see how things shifted and changed and got better. It was intriguing also to read about the family's relationship with Peyton which changed a lot throughout the book. And it was great to be able to see Peyton and Sydney's relationship change as well and I think at the end of the book, we were at a really great place with that. 

And then on the OTHER hand, we have the Chathams who are loud and boisterous but also incredibly tight-knit and it's clear that they're full of love for each other. It's something that's new for Sydney, or at least something she hasn't experienced in a very long time, and to be able to see her come to develop her relationship with them was so fun. I loved seeing her growing relationship with Mrs. Chatham and how Mrs. Chatham would offer her advice and guidance. And I loved seeing the interactions between Layla and Mac and Rosie, the three Chatham siblings.

But back to the characters, let's run through this quickly:

Sydney - really came around to her by the end. I felt for her at times but also had a deep understanding for who she was
Sydney's parents - I disliked what they were doing a lot of the time but could also see where they were coming from. By the end, I really liked how they developed
Peyton - He came around for me as well
Ames - Did not come around for me. Gave me the heebie jeebies just EW.
The Chathams - LOVE
Layla - LOVE
Jenn - LOVE
Eric and Irving (from Mac's band) - Eric was so amusing to me the entire time and Irving needs his own novel. He was HILARIOUS.
Mac - BEST FOR LAST OBVIOUSLY. Mac, Mac, Mac, Mac. Honestly the best person ever. He was so kind and sweet and just ADORABLE. One of my favourite Dessen guys and probably one of my favourite YA male characters EVER. I loved him and his relationship with Sydney was so sweet. I liked how natural it felt and how everything unravelled so nicely. I ALSO liked how there was no drama between them. I was kinda scared that there was going to be a BIG breakup or some scandal but there wasn't that and I was so grateful. I liked the two of them together so so much. HONESTLY MAC. But also as much as I liked them together, I also liked how their relationship didn't take up the novel. Like it wasn't the focus and that for me was so so important and so great to see. 

And then of course if you're still not convinced that this book is amazing and Sarah is amazing, let's just talk about how she dealt with important issues with such sophistication and sensitivity. And also the fact that this book made me so HUNGRY all the time. There was so pizza and I LOVE PIZZA. Literally was craving my hawaiian / triple cheese / vegetarian / bianca (is that how you spell it?) / margherita (again, is that how you spell it?) pizzas the ENTIRE TIME. And then there were the Yum Yum lollipops. Which, I MEAN, root beer and cola lollipops are the best okay, let's just lay that down right now. AND THEN THE FRIES. Honestly it kinda grossed me out that Layla put salt and pepper in her ketchup and then on her fries but everything else was just OH MY GOD (also lol if you've read this book can we just talk about the fact that Spence ate his fries using a fork and with MUSTARD should have been a sign that he was not good??). Like I loveeee fries you guys. And the best fries I have ever tried EVER are still the fries they sell at Costco. Next time you're at Costco get yourself a portion. THEY ARE SO DELICIOUS. 

So yeah, those are all the things I loved about Saint Anything! IF I HAVEN'T CONVINCED YOU, well then I don't know what else I can say MOSTLY BECAUSE THIS REVIEW IS ALREADY SO LONG.

What can I say that I haven't already said? Basically this book was AMAZING. It reconfirmed to me that Sarah Dessen is one of the best YA authors ever. Everything from the characters to the writing to the plot was just so well done. Honestly I am APPLAUDING RIGHT NOW because Saint Anything might just be Sarah Dessen's best work ever, or if not the best, ONE of her best. I SHOULD HAVE BOUGHT IT WHEN I HAD THE CHANCE SO MUCH GRR.

contemporary lovers looking for something deep and heartfelt. If you like reading about well developed characters and strong relationships, read this book and if you just want to read a GOOD book.

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