BOOK REPORT for Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Cover Story: A Vast Improvement
BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 8
Talky Talk: Dessentastic

Bonus Factors: Lakeview, A Motley (Dessen) Crew, Tasty Business
Relationship Status: Love


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Saint Anything

Cover Story: A Vast Improvement

I used to complain that all Sarah Dessen covers looked like brochures on Women's Health and Your Changing Body. Then, a few years back, they got redesigned, and while a few still look like tampon ads, the branding shift is definitely a step in the right direction. This cover is, in my opinion, the most appealing one so far. The carousel is charming (although misleadingly functioning), the layout is all grown up, and, most importantly, nothing reminds me of feminine hygiene.

The Deal:

Sydney has spent her whole life living in the shadow of her older brother, Peyton. Charismatic and daring, he attracted attention—and as he got older, trouble—effortlessly. But when he got behind the wheel after a night of drinking and struck a boy, paralyzing him, that shadow grew even darker, suffocating Sydney with loneliness as her parents focused on Peyton's future in prison. Desperate for an escape, she decides to start fresh at different high school, where she can just be Sydney, and not Sydney, the girl whose brother paralyzed a local kid. 

Change comes unexpectedly in the form of Seaside Pizza, a local dive where she meets Mac, an intriguing boy, and his sister, Layla, who instantly becomes her new BFF. Finally, Sydney's invisibility is diminishing, but with that comes the realization that she can no longer hide from the guilt and anger Peyton left in his wake. 

BFF Charm: Yay!

Like most Sarah Dessen heroines, Sydney is introspective and unassuming, an ordinary girl trying to navigate adolescence under the weight of some pretty heavy emotional burdens. Maybe it's because she reminds me of my teen self, following rules and keeping the boat as still as possible, but I instantly liked her. She's kind, and she's genuine, and I wanted so badly for good things to come her way. Whether she was pushing herself out of her comfort zone or just savoring the moment, I delighted in her journey, and I would be glad to call her a friend, especially since she always makes an effort to be a good one.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

I know Sarah Dessen has taught writing classes at UNC, which is cool and all, but when is she going to offer a course on Crafting the Perfect YA Boy? Because she is the EXPERT. (And I would love to get a Ph.D. in that program.) With his insanely hot physique and heart of gold, Mac has earned his place alongside Wes, Dexter and Owen in the Dessen Dude Hall of Fame. Like Wes in The Truth About Forever, Mac is the optimal kind of gorgeous—the type who isn't conscious of it—and there are certain scenes (including a particularly hilarious encounter at a gymnastics school) that establish both his good looks and his modesty. But it's not just about a pretty face. Mac sees Sydney in quiet, important ways, and their chemistry burns at a deliciously slow simmer that left me with a sweet ache in my chest. SA-WOON!

Talky Talk: Dessentastic

With a stack of literary gold to her name, Sarah Dessen has long set the standard for contemporary YA, and with each book, she aims to raise that bar. Some novels nudge it, while others, like this one, set it soaring. In writing Saint Anything, Dessen stayed true to form while simultaneously pushing the emotional envelope. Reading this book felt like coming home, only to notice that the rooms had gained another dimension. I was comforted by the familiar, the warmly wacky characters and the somber pauses of reflection, but I was compelled by the intense complexity of Sydney's turmoil and the tension of things left unsaid. As quickly as I wanted to devour this novel, certain passages, like this one, brought me to a standstill:

I swallowed, hard. And then, somehow, I was talking. "My brother's in prison for drunk driving. He left a kid paralyzed. And I hate him for it."

As I spoke, I realized I'd held these words in for so long and so tightly that I felt the space they left empty once released. It was vast enough that I could think of nothing to follow them.

Aspects of the book, particularly Sydney's relationship with her mother and the colorfulness of the Seaside Pizza posse, reminded me of The Truth About Forever, my favorite of Dessen's works, but while there are certainly similar themes, Sydney's story is her own. And it's a story that captivated me from start to finish.

Bonus Factors: Lakeview

As a hardcore Sarah Dessen swimfan, I take great pleasure in spotting the Easter eggs, i.e. references to her other books, that she scatters into the pages. Saint Anything takes place in Lakeview, which means it's a JACKPOT of tidbits from This Lullaby, The Truth About Forever, Just Listen and more. I particularly savored returning to Bendo (Hate Spinnerbait) and the appearance of an "Anger Management: The Show. WCOM Radio." shirt. (Hello, new design for the FYA Store!)

Bonus Factor: A Motley (Dessen) Crew

Never one to skimp on side characters, Sarah Dessen always crafts a supporting cast that easily deserve their own spin-off. Saint Anything is almost an embarrassment of riches in this arena. First, there's Layla, who reminds me a lot of Kristy, the sassiest gal pal in Dessen's canon:

If I was the invisible girl, Layla was the shining star around which her family and friends revolved. We didn't form a friendship as much as I got sucked into her orbit.

Layla is a straight shooter, a french fry fanatic (more on that below) and a thrift store fashionista. Then there's Eric, the leader of the band. (Did I mention that there's a band? And Mac is the drummer? Of course he is.) A total hipster, Eric would be insufferable if he wasn't so unintentionally amusing with his music snobbery and endless posturing. Rounding out the group in a big way (and I mean that literally) is Irv, a huge football player who is never not eating. Together, these lovable weirdos make up Sydney's new posse, and perhaps the saddest part of finishing this book was no longer getting to hang out with them at lunch while they talked about band names, the best/worst combination of dislikes and the ultimate french fry.

Bonus Factor: Tasty Business

A word of advice—if you're on a diet, don't read this book. Between Seaside Pizza and Layla's scientific system of analyzing (and consuming) french fries, the pages of this book were in constant danger of drowning in my drool.

Casting Call:

Olivia Cooke as Sydney

Dylan O'Brien as Mac

Dove Cameron as Layla

Relationship Status: Love

Hopefully, it's clear from all of my gushing that I am in love with this book. It's thoughtful and funny, and we connect on so many different levels. Like pepperoni and cheese or french fries and ketchup, it just feels right when we're together, and I will be eternally grateful to Sarah Dessen for introducing us. (She really is the best matchmaker.)

Saint Anything is available now.