My first Sarah Dessen book, and it was amazing and heart-wrenching and soooo good! It made me want to break out into Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song”, because this book was definitely killing me in the gentlest of manners… I loved the interwoven elements of self, family, and romance, and this is the type of YA contemporary romance that everyone needs a bit of in their lives.
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.
I’ve been avoiding Sarah Dessen books for the majority of my elementary and middle school years because I assumed that there were two elements in them that I wouldn’t like: romance and sad feels. My go-to books, 99% of the time, were fantasy books. In high school, I forgot about Sarah Dessen books entirely, and it wasn’t until college where I met my best friend (and she told me that she LOVED Sarah Dessen books) that I thought about giving them a try. And really, the only reason I picked Saint Anything was because it’s the newest release, and I want to gift it to her the next time I see her. (I actually do this read-book-gift-book thing quite a lot, haha.) So it was a complete surprise that I enjoyed this book as much as I did.
Sydney feels like a reflection of myself. Sydney is the one aspect of the book that I was slightly annoyed by, yet that I can relate to a lot. She’s forever a “good girl” who bottles up her feelings, and regardless of any stress or unpleasant things that other people inflict on her, she stays quiet about it. Even when her parents command her to do something that she doesn’t want to do, she still does it. Other YA books would’ve already sent Sydney climbing out her window in rebellion or going off with the hot bad boy, but not in this one. It was like looking in a mirror, in a way, because when I felt annoyed at how Sydney can’t stand up for herself, I realize that it’s also that particular part of myself that I didn’t like. I think everyone has feelings or thoughts that they bottle up, and Sydney’s actions throughout the story really emphasize the helplessness and frustration of having those struggles.
Imperfect characters are lovable. Just like how I didn’t like a specific trait of Sydney, there are aspects of the other characters that I didn’t like – but paradoxically, that just made me like the characters more as a whole. For example, Mac’s sister, Layla, is outgoing, passionate, and brings out the best in Sydney. However, she’s also prone to making bad decisions, especially when it comes to falling in love. Everyone in this story has their own problems, and that’s what makes them realistic and human.
A great mix of romantic, platonic, and familial relationships. I love that all three types of relationships are represented, and represented well. I enjoyed watching Sydney and Mac’s relationship develop just as much as Sydney and Layla’s relationship, and Sydney and Peyton’s relationship. Obviously, not every relationship leads to a happily ever after, but that is, again, reality.
Plot is slow-moving, in a good way. In realistic fiction and contemporary romance where emotions are the key to everything, slow plots provide more time for characters and relationships to develop. There’s a risk of become too boring, but Saint Anything never felt that way to me. There’s always a small change of behavior here or a small shift in thinking there that moves the plot along. I think that’s why I think of this book as soft and gentle, because everything is slow and steady.
And there is humor! Aside from the seriousness of the situation with Peyton, there’s quite a bit of humor in the story. Pizza whisperers and French fries obsessions trashy TV shows and all that, you’ll have to read about in the book! 🍕🍟
Saint Anything is a wonderful story about life and relationships, with a relatable cast of characters and a gentle plot. As a first-time Sarah Dessen reader, I’m thoroughly impressed and book hangover-ed and really looking forward to reading her other works!
Have you read Saint Anything (or other Sarah Dessen books)?
Are there book characters that you feel are just like yourself?