Saint Anything is the newest book by YA author Sarah Dessen. Dessen now has 11 books to her name. While not John Green, she has her own following of devoted readers, myself included. I first discovered her as a teen myself, and began reading her stories in earnest. More than ten years later, I still look forward to her new releases. Her books always involve romance, but they are deeper than that. The teens in her books are always dealing with some sort of difficult drama or trauma. For example, in past books, her characters have dealt with sexual assault, drug abuse, parental abandonment, the trauma of relocation, loss, and dramatic weight loss (among other things). What I find remarkable about her stories is that despite the somewhat heavy nature of whatever topic is being covered, her books are easy to relate to and very real.
Saint Anything is the story of Sydney, all around good girl. She goes to a fancy private school, gets decent grades, listens to her parents, and is just a responsible kid. She always has been. Living in the shadow of her older brother Peyton, Sydney has always been the opposite of him. Where Peyton is daring, Sydney is safe. She just doesn't take risks, since she's seen how they have worked out for her brother.
Peyton is trouble. Not just in trouble, but trouble all around. His parents have tried everything to keep him out of trouble, but again and again, he messes up. This time there is no easy solution. After minor infractions for drugs and break ins, Peyton got behind the wheel drunk. The family's lives will never be the same. This is where the book starts out.
Sydney switches schools to gain a new identity after being the kid whose brother's in prison. She starts off at the local public high school feeling lonely and invisible. It's not a new feeling for her, since that's how she feels at home too. Her parents' lives, in particular her mother's, revolve around Peyton. They barely notice her as long as she is where she is supposed to be on time. It's not until Sydney meets the Chathams, Layla and Mac, that things begin to change for her. She finally has real friends she feels comfortable opening up to, and she has a place. All of her new friends see her, and it helps Sydney see herself outside of her family.
This book is a very self-aware type of novel. A lot of the book is just Sydney trying to figure out who she is--in her family, in school, in her group of friends, in relation to her brother. After so much change in her world in the last few years, Sydney seems to have lost herself. Over the course of the novel, she comes to terms with a lot, while still leaving work in some other areas. (Side note-I like when an author doesn't tie up the novel neatly: that's not real to me.)
The book deals with some difficult issues, but it handles them very well. Dessen hasn't lost her touch. She's an excellent writer and character developer (is that a thing? Let's say it is.). I love the way she crafts details into the characters, even secondary characters, without being too overwhelming or making the book feel like it's dragging. Despite the fact that Sydney is dealing with some very particular issues that many teens (or adults) may never experience, Dessen manages to make the story easy to relate to, with problems many teens will and do face regularly. Plus, the characters are likable, and the story is just plain good.
This book was a bit different than her others, most notably that it did not take place during the summer, which most of her previous books do. When I think summer reads, I tend to think of Sarah Dessen's books. Oh, hey! It's still summer! Perhaps you should pick her books up yourself. Just saying.
Some similar reads:
Anything else by Dessen. My favorites include Along for the Ride and Keeping the Moon.
Some other realistic fiction authors with romance: