I have only experienced Sarah Dessen's writing in one other instance. In 2010 I read Someone Like You and was relatively indifferent to her writing. I knew a lot of people loved Dessen but it seemed to me that many of her books were all with the same theme of teenage love without much else in terms of struggle or storyline. But when Saint Anything came out earlier this year, I noticed a lot of excitement over the book. Not so much because of who wrote it, but for the tale itself. It piqued my interest and I decided, on one of my many book buying binges, that I'd pick it up and give it a go.
I'm pretty happy I did, because I generally enjoyed this book and it's changed my opinion of Sarah Dessen. There were a lot of errors in this book, in more ways than one, but the storyline still stuck with me, even weeks after I had finished reading it.
The one negative attribute I want to point out right away is this: so many errors. I know I am not spot on with my typing skills on this blog and I don't, honestly, work hard to correct those errors. I haven't the time. This is a horrible reason/excuse as I am an editor in real life. I do editing for a living! But with editing for a living, I spend 40 hours a week reading over the writings of other people and correcting their mistakes. When it comes to my own work, I'm just too tired to try very hard. Worst. Excuse. Ever. But when it comes to professional work, professional editing, I certainly take note if there are obvious errors and there were quite a few in this book. I have never edited materials for a mainstream publisher so I can only assume how it goes, but I picture there are multiple reviews of material before they hit print so to have errors more than once in the finished product is certainly disappointing.
But moving past that, I was so pleased with this book. Bravo to Dessen for managing a book to have a hint of romance but not to be completely driven by it. So many YA books seem to focus on the poor decisions of teens and how that affects them personally. This book does the same but with a bit of a twist. Our main character, Sydney, is suffering due to her older brother's decisions. A guy who she looked up to turned somewhat sour as he grew older, sour and distant as he began to dive into reckless behavior. This continues on and off, he gets better then worse again, until he ultimately hits a teen in the area--making the teen lose the ability to walk. Cut to his sentencing at a jail and the broken pieces left behind.
While Sydney's mother focuses completely on her brother and her father just follows orders, Sydney is left nursing the wounds caused by her brother's behavior but also being ignored by her own parents. I appreciate that this book focuses on what happens after. I'm sure most families have a relative who pulls some stupid things and there's always focus on that relative and what they did; people forget that what that person did will also affect the rest of the relatives and little focus is placed on that.
Like many teenagers, Sydney feels unseen and under-appreciated. She's a good kid, does well in school, and obeys the rules set by her parents, but she's suffering from it all as well. So when she befriends a group of people at her new school, she's happy to finally feel like she's noticed and belongs somewhere. She begins to feel that appreciation that she's lacking from her parents.
This is when the drama gets filtered into the book: Sydney's mother makes strict rules for Sydney with the idea that she's protecting her daughter from taking the same path as her brother. That's.... understandable but not necessarily right. More times than not, I wanted to yell at Sydney's mother for how unfair she was being. The mother's character creates some strong feelings, let me tell you. And amongst all this is the brother's creepy friend who hangs around the house and sweet talks Sydney's parents. He's a creep. That's the general idea of it. And he makes it a point to make you (and Sydney) uncomfortable. It escalates and the entire time you're reading the book you cringe every time this character appears because you feel it, you know something bad is going to happen.
And the other drama: Sydney begins to fall for her new best friend's brother. Something of an offense in this group of friends but their relationship is so sweet and pure. I love the two of them together and it was definitely giving me a tooth ache. It's typical in that regard: nice girl meets nice guy who is super hot but he doesn't realize he's hot. But it's always a bit enjoyable to read about those type of relationships: two nice people getting what they deserve (to be happy and in love).
And yet, I appreciate that while there is romance, it is not the sole reason for the book. Coming to terms with what her brother did and the reconstruction of the family dynamic is front and center. Sydney's friends' family dynamic is also an important key. Sydney can view her family and how it is, but also view another family and what her family could become.
So good, so satisfying. It was an easy, good read that didn't take a lot of energy to focus on but I enjoyed it so very much. But one note: am I old? When did high school lunches devolve into food truck options outside of the building? And this at the "poor" school for the area. What happened to rubbery cafeteria pizzas for lunch?