Sunday, May 3, 2015

Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Title: Saint Anything
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Penguin Teen Australia
Published Date: 5 May 2015
Buy: Amazon | The Book Depository

I received this novel through NetGalley from Penguin Teen Australia for review.

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.
(summary from Goodreads)

Saint Anything is a quietly powerful story of family and friendship, and of standing up and standing out.

There's a reason Sarah Dessen tops my favourite author list and Saint Anything adds to it further. This novel is beautiful, tragic, funny, romantic, tense, thought-provoking, chilling, inspiring, and so much more, all in 400-something pages. There's such feeling to Dessen's books that it's impossible not to get completely caught up in it. She has a way of writing characters and their experiences with easy depth; an everydayness; where the little things are as touching and meaningful as the big things. I love how the title and cover image have significance. I had moments where I had to pause to simply appreciate the wonder. Dessen does that to me. There's a slightly darker tone to Saint Anything, what with Peyton being in prison, the victim of his drunk driving being crippled and, most especially, Sydney's parents easy acceptance of a shady character and sheer obliviousness to his creepy designs on Sydney. Dessen deals with some heavy stuff throughout this novel, layering it with friendship and romance so that it maintains a realness that readers can relate to.

Saint Anything is full of interesting and quirky characters, like Layla who is a connoisseur of fries and the wrong kind of guys; Eric who finds the kind of meaning in music no one else seems to understand; Irv who is always eating and going along for the ride with questions and comments sure to stir Eric; and Mac, who likes to tinker - but don't call it that! - and quietly observes from the sidelines. Even the parents have something that individualises them. Mr Chatham is obsessed with bluegrass whereas Mrs Chatham loves her reality television. Sydney's mother is a control freak, organised and in charge in a scary fashion while Sydney's Dad stands out for his silence and acquiescence to every decision his wife makes. The shining star of Saint Anything is Sydney though. Used to being overlooked and scared of rocking the boat but still desperate to step out of the shadow of her brother's actions, Sydney changes schools, changes her routine, and ultimately changes her life. Her relationships with every character brings her closer to being the person she wants to be, that she wants to be seen as, and each of their quirks helps her to change her perceptions of the world. She even develops her own quirk of recognising aspects of a person from their pizza order, which is fun. I especially liked Dessen's portrayal of Sydney's relationship with her brother, how she realises her perception of him is not entirely accurate. Her growth as a character defines Saint Anything and I found myself invested from start to finish.

If you love Sarah Dessen, Saint Anything is not to be missed. If you've never read Sarah Dessen, start now. Saint Anything is a truly moving novel. 



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