Title: Saint Anything
Author: Sarah Dessen
“Sydney has always felt invisible. She’s grown accustomed to her brother, Peyton, being the focus of the family’s attention and, lately, concern. Peyton is handsome and charismatic, but seems bent on self-destruction. Now, after a drunk-driving accident that crippled a boy, Peyton’s serving some serious jail time, and Sydney is on her own, questioning her place in the family and the world.
Then she meets the Chatham family. Drawn into their warm, chaotic circle, Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance for the first time. There’s effervescent Layla, who constantly falls for the wrong guy, Rosie, who’s had her own fall from grace, and Mrs. Chatham, who ever though ailing is the heart of the family. But it’s with older brother Mac – quiet, watchful, and protective – that Sydney finally feels seen, really seen, at last.”
I don’t like contemporary YA. This is a fundamental fact of my personhood that anyone who knows me will tell you. There is, however, one exception: Sarah Dessen. Sarah is, without doubt or question, one of my all-time favorite authors. I have read and own every one of her twelve novels, and cherish them almost as much as my beloved Harry Potter collection. Seriously y’all, my love for Sarah runs deep. So when her twelfth novel, Saint Anything, was published, I cleared my schedule and got comfy.
Saint Anything is touted as Sarah’s deepest novel yet, and it certainly covers some heavy themes – addiction, illness, family discord – from the beginning, this is a departure from Sarah’s usual summer offerings. I was able to really identify with Sydney, as someone who’s also had a family member struggle with addiction and gone to jail because of it. I know what it’s like to feel like your whole life has been reduced to someone else’s mistakes. So I really appreciated the way Sarah deftly portrayed two families: one whose hardships drove them apart, another whose hardships brought them even closer. I loved the Chathams, and Layla often stole the show for me. Be warned that this book comes with major food cravings – pizza and french fries are very much their own characters.
This novel did have a couple shortcomings that felt a bit uncomfortable whilst reading – namely, Sydney’s hyper-controlling parents. There’s a scene when Sydney’s mom reaches across the table and slaps her hands down in front of Sydney…and I genuinely thought she was going to strike her. Her parents were just insane, and it almost made me as uncomfortable as Ames did. Which, bonus points to Sarah for portraying something that gets talked about so little – when an older guy doesn’t actually try anything with you, but just makes you feel unsafe. Sarah wrote an essay about her own experience with a guy like Ames over on Seventeen, and it’s definitely worth a read. I also never felt that connected to the relationship between Sydney and Mac, which definitely wasn’t the purpose of the novel, yet still felt a little lacking. But overall, this was a great addition to the Sarah collection, and probably one I’ll revisit when things with my personal Peyton get me down.
ALSO! Because Saint Anything was released so close to the start of summer – that magical time when all of Sarah’s books take place – I decided that, in celebration of Dessen’s Dozen novels, I’d do a reread. That’s right, I’m kicking off my Summer of Sarah with Saint Anything, and then I’m going to reread all of her books! In chronological order, so that I’ll catch all the little Easter Eggs she’s known for. I’ll be using the hashtag #SummerOfSarah on Twitter and Instagram with update posts here along the way, so please feel free to join! This is a very chill read-along, no hard deadlines. Instead, there will be a few books to read each month throughout the summer. If you want to join in for the whole summer, great! But you can also just read certain titles and participate however you’d like. Here’s the schedule:
MAY: Saint Anything
JUNE: That Summer, Someone Like You, Keeping the Moon, Dreamland
JULY: This Lullaby, The Truth About Forever, Just Listen, Lock and Key
AUGUST: Along for the Ride, What Happened to Goodbye, The Moon and More
This may be a lot of reading, depending on your reading speed and personal schedules. So don’t worry! Join in however works best for you. If you’ve read any of Sarah’s books, comment down below telling me which is your favorite. Don’t forget to use #SummerOfSarah if you join the read-along!