Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

 Hardcover: 432 pages Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (May 5, 2015) |  Amazon  |  Barnes and Noble

Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (May 5, 2015) | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Summary

Sydney has always felt invisible. She’s grown accustomed to her brother, Peyton, being the focus of the family’s attention and, lately, concern. Peyton is handsome and charismatic, but seems bent on self-destruction. Now, after a drunk-driving accident that crippled a boy, Peyton’s serving some serious jail time, and Sydney is on her own, questioning her place in the family and the world.

Then she meets the Chatham family. Drawn into their warm, chaotic circle, Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance for the first time. There’s effervescent Layla, who constantly falls for the wrong guy, Rosie, who’s had her own fall from grace, and Mrs. Chatham, who even though ailing is the heart of the family. But it’s with older brother Mac—quiet, watchful, and protective—that Sydney finally feels seen, really seen at last.

Saint Anything is Sarah Dessen’s deepest and most psychologically probing novel yet, telling an engrossing story of a girl discovering friendship, love, and herself.

Review

Sometimes being invisible isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You think you’d get away with murder, but when your can-do-no-wrong brother hits someone in a drunk-driving accident, you’re lucky if you get away with missing curfew by a minute; if you ever choose to go anywhere. For Sydney Stanford, this is the story of her life.

Peyton, the perfect older sibling, isn’t so perfect. Since early high school, it has been one arrest after another, a rehab or two, and tons of drinking and drugs that his mother yells at him for, yet makes excuses to everyone else. Yet Peyton’s bad decisions have finally caught up with him. Not only has he hit someone, but he has left them partially paralyzed. And this time, he is going to jail.

Well, if you do the crime, you do the time. So why does it feel like Sydney is the one who is serving the sentence; sentenced to a life of loneliness, sadness and mostly, silence. Most days, if not all, Sydney spends her time watching television, alone on her sofa. Meanwhile, her father constantly works, going out of town on business, doing anything to avoid the fact that his son is in jail; whereas her mother is throwing herself into project after project, “to help Peyton adjust to prison life.” Thus leaving Sydney to feel guilt, regret and sorrow for the boy Peyton hit, as well as something else towards her brother, something she dare not say out loud.

Unable to deal with the scandal at her prep school, Perkins Day, Sydney decides to transfer to the public school, Jackson High. There she is enveloped by a ray of sunshine named Layla, and Layla's ex, Eric and Layla's brother, Mac, as well as Irv. Finally, she has a place that feels like home, instead of having to go home to a lonely house. Sydney has found herself a real family, who will look out for her and be concerned about her well being. However, life deals her a dose of reality, reminding her that Peyton is gone and she must suffer the consequences for his actions.

One of the punishments that Sydney must endure is Ames, Peyton’s friend from rehab. On the surface, Ames seems like a nice guy and the family loves him, but in her gut, Sydney knows something isn’t right. And Layla felt it too, the day Peyton was sentenced at the courthouse, before she even knew who Sydney was. But Ames is too friendly, always trying to find ways to be close to Sydney or touch her. It gives her the creeps, yet the worst part is that she can’t tell her parents. Ames is like their shepherd, herding them through the fields of Peyton being in prison. And with no evidence of foul play, she must keep silent.

Another pain from Peyton’s sentencing is her mother’s visits to the prison. Typically it is just her mother visiting the prison. One, because Peyton does not want Sydney there and two, Sydney does not wish to go. However, things have changed. Somehow, her mother has convinced Peyton to want Sydney there. Either that or Ames, and now her mother is forcing Sydney to go, claiming that Peyton has it hard and needs all the support he can get. Sydney can only imagine how hard David, the boy Peyton hit, has it. And thus the return of that niggling feeling towards her brother, the one that she just can’t quite describe.

But the worst part of this is the silence. Not just the emptiness Sydney receives when she comes home, but the fact that she can’t release all these things she is feeling. Her unease around Ames, her dislike of visiting Peyton in prison, as well as the dislike she feels toward her brother. Why she is even silenced in her feelings toward Mac, Layla’s brother, for fear of Yoko-ing (Yoko Ohno) the new family she has found.

Forced to hide her thoughts, Sydney keeps quiet and endures internally, hoping that the universe or an angel or someone will ease her strife and makes things better. Yet sometimes, you have to speak up. Sometimes, you have to be your own savior, or rather your own saint. That maybe by standing up for yourself and conveying your own thoughts, she will not only make her life better, but better someone else’s life as well. Thus will Sydney ever tell her parents how she feels, express her growing affections for Mac to him or Layla, and will she finally admit to herself the guilt and anger she has been carrying for her brother’s mistake? Or will she slowly let the silence eat away at her sanity?

Saint Anything is an excellent page turner that teaches us that what we need is someone, anyone, looking out for us, even if that someone is ourselves.  Saint Anything also teaches us that we should not be afraid of our feelings or be afraid to express those feelings. That the only way for someone to understand us is to express who we are and how we feel. Not everyone is a mind reader. Above all, Saint Anything taught me personally, and hopefully it will teach you, that family are the people you grow with, not just the people you’re born with.

Reviewed by Camia Rhodes