Sarah Dessen is without a doubt one of my favourite authors. When I read Just Listen about five years ago I was captivated. On her books one of the recommendation quotes is always “Read her once and fall in love” and that’s what happened for me. After Just Listen I went and read everything I could find. Now I can boast I have read almost all of her books. There’s a sweet collection of 12 books on my bookshelves. Dreamland is the only one I haven’t read and I don’t plan on letting 2016 end without that changing.
Saint Anything is Sarah Dessen’s latest book and it was on my shelf for a while before I picked it up. I was in a reading slump where I was struggling to get through anything more than the first few pages of a book. I turned to Saint Anything then and instantly my reading slump was broken.
Once again I was pulled into a world of characters that were so real that they felt like friends. I found myself experiencing the woods that they walked through, the school Sydney changed herself into. The story was so intense with Sydney’s brother and Dessen throws the reader straight into it as she starts the story in the court as her brother is sentenced. The story then follows family life as the different members of the family react in different ways and in many ways the family breaks, but in different ways the family comes back together.
Throughout the novel, I was able to feel what Sydney was feeling. She was a very relatable character and I know many people who would be able to relate to her. Not so much because they have an older sibling in jail but rather they know what it’s like to be judged by an older sibling’s actions. Sydney is a good child but whenever she messes up it is blown out of proportion.
But what the novel does is show us not only Sydney’s point of view throughout this, but also – through her new friend’s Mom – Sydney’s Mom’s point of view. While Sydney is lost in the ‘It’s not fair, I’m not Peyton’ Layla and Mac’s Mom opens her eyes to how her Mom is reacting to seeing her son is jail and desperately needing to keep her daughter on the right path.
Along with this family story, we see Sydney starting a new school, we see her making new friends, losing touch with old friends and generally going through the high school experience. Friends in a band, first job, broken curfews, first alcohol experience. The school as a whole feels so real because there is not just one thing happening. While Sydney is having the crisis that is her life, Layla and Mac see their Mom taken into hospital around the Christmas/New Year time and there is a lot of exploration of their family.
The story is full of relatable characters, realistic feelings and quirky little anecdotes. Dessen is remarked as being one of the best romance author for Young Adult Literature and while I agree and love the romances within her stories, I feel like this comment doesn’t do her enough credit. Sarah Dessen is a wonderful romantic writer, but she doesn’t just write about falling in love, she writes about growing up, she writes about family, about school, about summer, about jobs, about friends, about everything in a young adult’s life. And that’s what makes her books truly fantastic.