Monday, May 11, 2015

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Release Date - May 5, 2015
Publisher Website - Penguin Canada
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages - 448 pages
My Rating - 4/5
**received for an honest review from publisher**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
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. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior 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 parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans. 
I have a secret. A shameful one for a book nerd. I've never read a Sarah Dessen novel. Not one book. Saint Anything was my introduction to her writing and I totally understand why she is revered in the contemporary market. Saint Anything was a touching novel that deals with the many ways we can feel unseen and heard.

The idea of being seen takes on many different meanings in this novel. Sydney is struggling with various situations in which being seen or unseen is the heart. There is the way that Sydney wishes to be seen as anything but an extension of her brother. She wants to be seen for herself, as someone who exists outside of her connection to another person. The way she wishes she could disappear sometimes when people begin to whisper and stare. It also takes a darker turn with unwanted attention that leaves you feeling unsettled and apprehensive from men. This last issue, in particular, is subtly woven into the story in a way that compliments all the other ways Sydney feels about being seen and unseen. She muses at one point that often all we want is to be seen .... until we are. She grapples with the fact that her parents are so focused on Peyton that they may not truly see her.

A slow burn romance is one of my favourite kinds to read about. The friends first, but clearly into each other kind tugs at my heart easily. The romance unravels slowly which each of them leaning on each other, talking about hard things together, and supporting each other before turning into something more. This foundation makes everything feel just a little more real, and adds a texture to the romance that ensures it feels believeable. This aspect, particularly when the novel is a contemporary, is integral to investing in not just the characters, but the outcome of the story. Sarah Dessen makes you care. She makes you want the best for the characters, and she makes it look easy.

This is as much a story of friendship as it is one of romance. The friendship that blooms between Layla and Sydney is the heart and soul of this novel. Layla sees her when nobody else does. Truly sees her. She immediately makes Sydney feel as someone other than just Peyton's sister. Their bond, and how it forms and grows during the novel is not only my favourite aspect of the novel, but one of the strongest relationships featured in the book. Sarah Dessen writes both girls as fully defined characters. Ones that are complex and flawed. They hurt each other, they fight, but they care enough about each other to work at it and that makes all the difference.

While I enjoyed this one, found it to be a pleasant read, I didn't feel that the storylines really impacted me. There wasn't a tension that vibrated through the novel. That relationship that Sydney has with Peyton for instance could have used more expansion. The guilt Sydney feels for what Peyton did, while haunting her every moment, didn't feel like it got the full attention it deserved towards the end. It was a quieter read with less impact than I had anticipated, particularly with the heavier subject matters being handled. If you're looking for a lighter read that has some darker tones subtly woven throughout this will be the book for you.

A story of transformations, and finding your own way to be comfortable within yourself. As someone who enjoyed her first Sarah Dessen novel, I urge you to dive in as well if you are not already a fan. I am looking forward to reading another one of her books, and continuing to discover this amazing voice in contemporary young adult.

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