Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Publishing Date: May 5
Genre: young adult, contemporary
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.
Sydney always looked up to her older brother — his charisma, his big personality, the way he seemed to walk into a room and everyone would notice — until he got into trouble one too many times, harmed a life, and landed himself in prison. But even there, his existence still overshadows hers. The Chathams, a remarkable, full-of-life family with their own pizza business, see Sydney for exactly who she is and take her under their wing. But one tiny slip-up on one night lands Sydney back at home under her mother’s tight reigns, and it takes all her strength to stand up and demand to be seen.
This book reminded me so much of my favorite Dessen book, The Truth About Forever. There’s the controlling mother who loves her children but doesn’t notice them (and boy, Sydney’s mother really drove me up a wall), the daughter who stumbles upon a warm and chaotic family with a small business and a big heart, the boy with a knack for fixing broken things and creating something from nothing, and the big near-blow out between mother and daughter. With that in mind, though, this book is not as lighthearted as The Truth About Forever. It’s far more complicated. Part of it, I think, has to do with the fall semester setting (everything always seems so much more tough when school’s involved) and the big character that doesn’t make a physical appearance — Peyton, Sydney’s brother, and his unique story.
I’m not sure I’ve ever read a YA book where one of the characters was currently in prison, let alone a family member of the main character. I equally resented and loved Peyton, especially when he began to open up to Sydney and her idolization of him crashed down to a more realistic level. A part of me also understood where their mother’s obsession to compartmentalize, control, and plan everything came from — she reminded me of the mother in Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, only much more book-throwing-inducing — and she drew the tiniest bit of sympathy from me for that. But her lack of attention for Sydney bothered me most. I’m not a mother, so I’m in no position to say she can’t treat her good child as if she’s the bad one, and she shouldn’t punish her remaining child for the wrongs the one in prison did. People can’t help the way they react to things, and apparently this mother just holds a tight leash and refuses to listen. There were times I wish Sydney would speak up instead of beating around the bush, but that would’ve only made her conversations with her parents worse. I’m aware of that. But still. Those moments when Sydney, mother, and father were in the room together were some of the most intense, frustrating scenes. Bravo for creating such a mixture of tension and emotion, Dessen!
Dessen also has a knack of paying close attention to secondary characters. Sydney, Layla, and Mac are at the center of the story, but their families and families’ friends have rounded development, as well. I loved the Chathams and their impromptu gatherings for dinner, bluegrass, and woods wanderings, their tiny home and obsession with a TV show the equivalent to Real Housewives. I enjoyed seeing the stark difference with Sydney and her old private school friends, the bumps in the road eventually bringing them back together again. You become close to all of them, and you want to know their stories, too.
So much pizza, so many fries, so many YumYums (haha, DumDums!), so much music, so many car rides, so many late nights and texts and wanderings. Though this is not a summer Dessen, this is a classic Dessen, and I’ve no doubt her readers will thoroughly enjoy this. It felt like Just Listen meets The Truth About Forever, and I’m excited to see what she has up her sleeve next.
Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Viking for review!
2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Saint Anything” by Sarah Dessen (ARC)”
It wasn’t quite The Truth About Forever or Just Listen level for me, but I really loved it! And yes, leave it up to Sarah Dessen to make the most yummy food references!
Thanks for the review. Sounds good!