Book review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

This is the story of a girl who carried the world on her shoulders.

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Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (first published in 2015 by Penguin Random House Books)

If there is one thing I've learnt about reading a Sarah Dessen novel, it’s  that when you’ve turned the last page of the book, you’re always left with the sense that you’ve finally come home from a long and arduous, but oh-so-worth-it kind of journey.

Her books are like comfort food for the broken soul; nourishing in its depth, bittersweet in its melancholy moments, but filled with enough heart-warming moments to ensure that you’ll end up feeling as if you’ve had a slice of the best piece of confectionary of your life.

Essentially, it’s brain and heart candy for the consummate reader and - Saint Anything - like its predecessors, is no different.

In fact, while it still possesses that innate charm, the book goes a goes a little deeper, darker and more introspective than usual.

It focuses on a teen girl’s crumbling relationship with her family following her older brother’s arrest and subsequent jail sentence for causing the paralysis of a young boy.

This is a book about the choices that we make and the choices that we have to live with. It’s a read that deals with how the effects of favouritism can easily blind a parent to a child’s faults and it explores what happens when present-absenteeism takes hold in a household where emotional neglect has already moved in.

And boy, did this book push my buttons.

While Saint Anything is a book that left me with a lot of questions unanswered, I get the feeling that perhaps this is what Sarah was aiming for. That she was saying sometimes relationships don’t get fixed at the end; that endings might just mean baby steps to new beginnings and that people’s behaviour don’t always change overnight.  

No one learns this lesson harder than Sydney, our main protagonist in Saint Anything.

When we first start reading, we get the immediate sense that Peyton her brother, is the golden child; the chosen one. 

Charismatic, attractive and charming, Peyton is the kind of character that has it all and is privileged to boot. What makes him act out is never really inferred, but nonetheless, his behaviour doesn’t stop their parents – mainly their mom – from making all sorts of excuses for him.

At this point, Sydney, who is already feeling left by the wayside, does what any other normal teen would do in her circumstances: tries to be supportive but can’t help but resent her brother for his irresponsible and reckless behaviour.

She also takes it upon herself to shoulder the blame for the accident that results in the boy’s paralysis.

And her parents? Well, what happens is that their parents barely take note of Sydney. And when they do, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

Left floundering, Sydney eventually draws closer to the Chathams, a family who have all the reason in the world to give up, yet are all the more closer, loving and supportive because of their very circumstances.

I found the juxtaposition of how the two different families deal with emotional upheaval fascinating; Sarah has a way of presenting two different fronts while making both reactions plausible and understandable, even if we as the reader don’t necessarily agree with the one family’s methods.

There were times I just really wanted to shake Sydney’s parents – the kind of neglect and lack of attentiveness to her needs was just downright criminal.

I also loved how friendship was given a strong focus in the book. Sydney befriends her love interest’s sister first – and it’s a bond that is emphasised throughout the book. In fact, while I certainly did enjoy the romantic aspect of the novel, I found myself applauding Sarah more for every other aspect of this book.

Yay for the power of friendships in YA novels!

I did feel as if there was room for more expansion in the novel, especially towards the end of the book. The conclusion also felt very abrupt, but I am hoping it’s because we’ll get to see more of the characters in future books and not because it was the end of the story.

Niggles aside, it’s still a book that’s worth picking up, and one that I’d definitely read again.


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