Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

“I was sure I’d be in for a treat.  I wasn’t wrong!”

I have loved every single book I’ve read by Sarah Dessen so far, so when I picked up Saint Anything, I was sure I’d be in for a treat.  I wasn’t wrong!

Ms Dessen has a wonderful way of writing stories that really hit you right in the solar plexus – the emotional punches are that intense.  She usually weaves her tales around difficult issues and her heroines are often vulnerable and far from self-confident.  This particular book was, according to the author, written for all those of us who felt invisible in high school (or elsewhere), for whatever reason.  The teens who longed to stand out and be the centre of attention, but always blended into the background, unmemorable, practically non-existent.

The heroine, Sydney, is such a girl and she has always been overshadowed by her flamboyant, good-looking, daring older brother, Peyton.  He’s the kind of guy who everyone wants to be friends with, who all the girls want to go out with, who dares anything.  Until he starts to go too far.

Here’s the blurb:-  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. Whey Peyton’s increasingly reckless behaviour 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 parlour, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestionable acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time …

So Sydney is used to coming second, but when Peyton is sent to prison for drink driving and causing grievous bodily harm to a young boy, and her mother still insists on putting Peyton first, Sydney starts to see things differently.  When she makes some new friends who actually take her views into account and notice her, her life begins to change.  But her mother doesn’t.  They’re on a collision course and it can only end in tears, but whose?

I absolutely loved this story and couldn’t stop reading.  It starts very slowly but builds in intensity until you are rooting for Sydney and her friends, wanting to slap her stupid mother, wanting her and Mac to get together, and then there is a creepy guy who is sort of stalking her too, which keeps you on the edge of your seat as you don’t know how far he will go with his devious schemes.

Sydney is the sort of rule-abiding girl most parents would be really proud of, but hers only notice her if she does something wrong. Because her brother went off the rails so disastrously, they’re determined to make sure the same thing won’t happen to her. They don’t take into account the fact that Sydney is a completely different character to her brother; someone who wouldn’t even dream of doing something bad. And she feels as if she’s being punished for Peyton’s mistakes which is totally unfair.

Sydney is the kind of girl who is easily overlooked, who doesn’t stand out, and yet as the story progresses, the reader starts to see that perhaps being the centre of attention isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Being invisible definitely has advantages too.

The whole story felt so real, so ordinary and yet extraordinary, and although I finished the book hours ago, I can’t let the characters go – they are still in my head.

I really can’t recommend Ms Dessen’s books highly enough – if you’ve never tried one, please do!

Pia Fenton writes contemporary romantic YA stories and her Northbrooke High series features UK heroines clashing with US heroes in an American high school setting.  The fourth one in the series – New England Dreams is out now!

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