Skip to main content

Saint Anything


Saint Anything

SAINT ANYTHING is a complicated book to review. After multiple attempts of trying to liken reading it to eating a brownie --- crunchy on the inside but deliciously soft and sweet at its center --- I gave up.
Instead, I’ll tell you that Sarah Dessen’s SAINT ANYTHING is the book I’ve always wanted to read from her. It has been called a departure but I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. It’s just as real and present as the others, characterized by warmth and the comfortable way she lets stories unfold. Also, it’s no secret that Dessen likes to layer in the tough stuff, and she’s given voice to many issues that needed one. SAINT ANYTHING is no exception.
The book is about Sydney Stanford, a teenage girl who believes she is invisible, existing only in the shadow of her older brother Peyton. The novel opens just as Peyton is sentenced to prison for a drunk driving accident that left a young boy paralyzed. For most of Sydney’s life, her parents have focused on her older brother and his mistakes.  Her mother lives in a world of enabling and denial and her father complacently follows along.
SAINT ANYTHING is the book I’ve always wanted to read from her.
In order to escape, Sydney transfers from the private school she and her brother attended to the local public school, hoping that the ghosts of her brother’s sins won’t follow her there. It’s at Jackson that Sydney meets people who actually see her and include her, who are unwilling to skirt around her family’s tragedy --- and the one that it caused --- but are willing to accept her, anyway. With that comes a paradigm shift in Sydney’s life that was long overdue.
I really appreciated Sydney’s story because it tackled an oft overlooked issue --- familial incarceration. Dessen packed the novel with the stigmatization and awkwardness that a family member of someone in prison undoubtedly feels. She captured the complicated feelings that come from wanting to hide from the situation while still caring for that person. 
Dessen does not allow this issue to remain black and white. Throughout SAINT ANYHTING, Sydney has to grapple with the fact that she can’t forget --- or necessarily forgive --- what her brother did. Because her mother can’t acknowledge her brother’s crimes, Sydney takes on a lot of her brother’s blame, obsessing over the young boy who was badly injured. At first it’s as if she has become stuck in that guilt, locking it inside and carrying it with her because no one in her family will talk about it. But as she develops a friendship with Layla, a girl whose sister was in a similar situation, she begins to open up.
Sydney’s self-realization is not forced; it’s organic, progressing as the novel unfolds and providing an authentic, if slightly interrupted, coming-of-age story. Because of her brother’s incarceration, Sydney has had to deal with a lot more than her friends and is only able to grow when she can separate herself from her brother.  
Also, the lives of the other characters around her feel so natural they could be the protagonists of this story. You don’t actually feel like you’re getting one point of view, but many, giving readers a well-rounded look at the world in the novel.
I could probably write a whole review in how much I loved Mac, Layla’s brother and Sydney’s best friend. I could also write a review about how the usual YA Contemporary tropes do not fit this book at all. The romance is not the focus of the story, nor is it just a plot device. If I were still using that brownie simile, I’d say that the romance is like a few chocolate chips in the batter, enhancing but not overshadowing. In fact, the romance was perfect. And Mac was the kind of guy I wanted to read about; sure of himself, intelligent and protective without being overbearing or aggressive. He was the perfect counterbalance to Sydney, who spent most of the novel finding things about herself she had never realized.
SAINT ANYTHING is a quiet novel but not one to be overlooked. In fact, I think readers who’ve never picked up Dessen before should try this first --- it’s so beautiful, realized and full of heart that I would feel bad for anyone who might miss out.

Reviewed by Brianna Robinson on May 11, 2015

Saint Anything
by Sarah Dessen

  • Publication Date: May 31, 2016
  • Genres: Young Adult 12+, Youth Fiction
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Speak
  • ISBN-10: 014751603X
  • ISBN-13: 9780147516039