Monday, October 10, 2016

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Reviewed by Ambrea
Sydney is used to being invisible.  Her brother, Peyton, is like the sun in her family’s little universe—bright, iridescent, and undeniable—and Sydney has grown accustomed to living in his shadow and the benign indifference of her parents.  But when Peyton is involved in a drunk-driving accident that leaves a boy crippled and her family reeling, Sydney feels like her entire world is falling apart and she can’t help worrying about her tenuous hold on her family, especially when her brother’s friend Ames enters the picture and focuses all their energy on Peyton.

But when Sydney meets the Chatham family, she finds herself drawn into their chaotic but strangely wonderful world—and she finds herself being actually seen for the first time.  She quickly befriends Layla, a bubbly, effervescent would-be fashionista who constantly falls for the wrong guy, and her incredible family.  Even Mac, Layla’s older brother, becomes an integral part of her life as she copes with her brother’s crime, her parents’ forgetfulness, and Ames’ uncomfortable attentions.

After reading one of Sarah Dessen’s previous novels (Just Listen, for the curious minds), I wasn’t particularly impressed.  Like my first encounter with Nicholas Sparks, my introduction to Sarah Dessen did not go well.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked her novels, but I didn’t love them.  She fell into a familiar category of good-but-not-great young adult books I toss aside once I’ve finished.  However, Saint Anything immediately revised my opinion.

Sydney is a complex, but oddly compelling character.  I enjoyed following her narrative as she coped with her brother’s incarceration and Ames’ unwanted (albeit creepy) attention, as she discovered new friends and forged new relationships.  I liked watching her grow as a character, weathering storms, struggling with her tumultuous relationship with her mother—and, more importantly, managing to define herself once she slips out from her brother’s shadow.  Her ordeal is heart-wrenching, especially when Ames is involved.

And, speaking of Ames, I want to state for the record that I simply couldn’t stand him.  Any time he appeared in the story, I had an immediate feeling of apprehension mixed with revulsion.  He was a predator in more ways than one by leeching off of the generosity of Sydney’s family, playing upon their grief and their belief in him as a friend to their beloved Peyton, and preying upon Sydney who consistently seems to fall at the periphery of her parents’—specifically her mother’s—concern.  I always hated the sense of foreboding that came up in the novel when he appeared, and I don’t know why Sydney’s parents couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see it.

Despite Ames marring the story, Saint Anything was a wonderful book.  Complex but not overwhelming, it’s a lovely book about love and friendship, mother-daughter relationships and self-realization.  Most of the characters I encountered felt realistic and wonderfully tangible; the story felt real, incredibly plausible; and the plot moved at a pace I could enjoy.  Dessen’s novel had an authenticity, a realism to it, that I didn’t expect but thoroughly appreciated.  More importantly, it packed an emotional punch.  I enjoyed Saint Anything much more than I expected, and I’m glad I took the opportunity to give Dessen’s work a second chance.

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