Sarah Dessen has written 12 novels… and I’ve read every single one of them (she has her own tag). That should be a clue to how much influence she has had over my reading habits these past five years – she’s a staple of Young Adult fiction, and rightfully so (in my opinion).
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.
To be honest, the last book of hers that I really loved was Along for the Ride (perhaps my favourite Dessen book?). Her two books since then have been forgettable disappointments, so while I was excited for Saint Anything, I wasn’t sure if it would be a hit or a miss.
It was a hit.
I hate it when people use the phrase “return to form” because I believe authors (and people) should change and evolve over time, and should never feel constrained by past success. Given that, I just wanted to say that Saint Anything is a return to the wonderfully compelling Dessen books that I fell in love with in the past.
Ah, the characters! I loved the way Dessen portrayed the family dynamics, the looming shadow of Sydney’s incarcerated brother is perfectly noted, having enough of an influence but not overpowering. Her mother and father were well written and nuanced as well, but gosh, I really loved Sydney. I may have found a lot in common with her – studious, invisible types with troublemaker brothers (thankfully not in prison, but also not as big-personality), but her character growth was just so well done. Even without these similarities, I would want to sing praises for days; I really just wanted to follow her story til the end since I was so emotionally invested in her.
Of course, I adored Layla and Mac as well – I’m such a sucker for these people who are busy and full of life and love, and who’ll take the lost people under their wing- I loved the small details Dessen gave her, with the romance books, instruction manuals, and fries. And pizza. Guys, there is pizza for days, and it is glorious. This should be a PSA. I thoguht Mac was so sweet, and I’m glad the romance wasn’t overpowering. Also, the supporting cast was classic Dessen – think Wish Catering from The Truth About Forever – despite limited screen time, they each had their moments to shine. I also adored the callbacks to the Dessen universe (so many!).
The pacing was a little off at times – there was a bit too much info-dump in the beginning and too much closure at the end, but between the two bookends, I felt the novel coasted along at a comfortable pace, I’m not exactly sure if I liked this or not. I'll admit the book is a bit formulaic, but where it works is the execution, and this one worked on pretty much every level.
8.7/10 – because I really did adore this one, Sydney’s character arc was beautiful and earned, the supporting characters were delightful, the writing was engaging, and well… it’s Sarah Dessen. I love her. And you should read her latest, it’s her best one in years.
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