Somewhere toward the end of college, I forgot about my love for Sarah Dessen. I was wrapped up in trying to be an adult and totally forgot the feeling of reading one of her books and falling in love with characters and words and the feelings of being a teenager. When I picked her back up again, I was disappointed—that was The Moon and More, and that’s the only time I’m going to speak of that book (THIS IS SUBJECTIVE, YOU SHOULD STILL READ IT IF YOU WANT). But then I was in an airport coming home from a work trip last summer, and I saw the beautiful hardcover of Saint Anything on the shelf of an airport bookstore. The cover was dark—way darker than any other Dessen. I was intrigued. I picked it up. I read the jacket description. I never looked back.
Sydney has always been framed in terms of the people in her life. She’s always lived in her brother’s shadow, but this time, that’s a bad thing—her brother was recently convicted of drunk driving after an accident that left a boy unable to walk. Sydney feels like a shadow—she is almost entirely ignored at home, and is suddenly viewed negatively at her small private school, where her brother had also attended. So she switches schools. And in doing so, she is introduced to Layla Chatham, who quickly sees who Sydney truly is. Through Layla, Sydney meets the rest of the Chatham family, including the matriarch, who has multiple sclerosis, and Mac, Layla’s older brother. While Layla is outgoing, Mac is quiet and brooding, but he notices everything. And he’s the first to really prove to Sydney that she is seen.
Because of the way Dessen writes her stories, it’s often tricky to explain why I love the books so much without giving anything away. But I’m going to try, because I really love this book. When I finished it, I thought it might pass The Truth About Forever and become my new favorite Sarah Dessen book, but I’m thinking now that maybe I can have two favorites. In any case, I LOVE this book. Why? Because I’ve been Sydney. I’ve felt invisible. I’ve been there.
Let’s start by talking about Peyton, Sydney’s older brother. Peyton has always been the golden child of his family, but it wasn’t his own doing. We didn’t get to see a lot of Peyton in this book (care to do a spin off, SD? No? You don’t do that? Hmph.), but it’s easy to get the gist of the situation—he didn’t feel like he lived up to expectations, so he rebelled. In a BIG way. The accident itself is crappy, but the fact that he was an 18-ish year old (maybe? his exact age is escaping me) driving drunk is all sorts of bad. The first scene of the book is at his sentencing, which was an intriguing way to start. Sydney feels lightyears away from him then, and you can see their relationship healing as the book progresses.
The second person I want to talk about is Ames. Oh my gosh, I HATE Ames. I hated him from the very first time he was introduced, probably more than the average reader would. (He put his hand on Sydney’s shoulder in the very first scene, and GOOD GRIEF, I hate when people touch me without me wanting them to.) Ames is Peyton’s friend, who sort of becomes a surrogate son while Peyton is in jail, except he’s quite a bit older than Peyton and is clearly just as troubled. But he’s creeptastic, y’all. Dessen wrote him so well, and it’s clear why—she published an essay stating that Ames was based on a personal experience she had when she was a teenager.
Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for—let’s talk about Mac. Mac is the kind of boy I was always looking for in high school and college—quiet, smart, brooding, observant. He’s also the reason for the book title, although that part about the saints and Saint Anything is so cute that I’m not going to say anything more so I don’t spoil it. Mac and Sydney have to come to terms with the fact that Sydney’s best friend is Mac’s sister, too, and they don’t handle it very well. That part felt so real to me—that’s the kind of thing that really happens in high school. Girls fight and then they make up and it’s all fine in the end. But. There’s a big but here. I was a little disappointed in how Mac was framed. He’s super attractive now because he lost a whole bunch of weight. Really? That’s a little more… shamey than I’d like. I’ll maintain that the weight thing wouldn’t have mattered to Sydney, though. His personality was the same before and after the weight loss. That’s how I’m going to justify that in my head. (I’m a flawed human being, so what.)
There is so much more to this intensely layered story, more about Layla and her family and their group of friends, plus Sydney’s friends from her former school, plus Sydney’s parents. I could never explain it all and do it all justice. You should really read the book. In fact, after writing this, I’m thinking I may need to do a reread myself.
Saint Anything is available where books are sold. Sarah Dessen is also the author of eleven other books, including The Truth About Forever and Just Listen. Her newest, Once and For All, is due out in June 2017.