Title: Saint Anything
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication date: May 5, 2015
Summary (via Goodreads):
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.
Normally I'd write this big long review about how much I liked Saint Anything, with what worked, what didn't, and some literary analysis mixed in – because that's just who I am and that's just what I do – but Saint Anything feels a lot like This Lullaby, my actual absolute favorite book from Sarah Dessen, and I've still never written or thought about writing a review for that. Some books just cannot be sufficiently described in six to eight paragraphs on a blog post. So instead of doing that, I'll just give you a list of some of my favorite things from this book:
1. Sarah Dessen's dedication: For all the invisible girls and for my readers, for seeing me. HI EXCUSE ME JUST GONNA GO CRY IN MY ROOM THANKS.
2. The way Sydney hears Mac say her name – "so familiar, the sentiment confident and reassuring, that was more touching, actually, than anything else he'd done so far."
3. Eric's artist statement (if that's what we're going to call it) about the band's ironic pop covers being more than just ironic covers. "It's about the universal experience of mass consumption of music. How a song can remind you of something specific in your own life, like it belongs to you. But how personal can it really be if a million other people feel the same way about it?" His friends all make fun of him for talking nonsense, but I GET IT, ERIC. Don't listen to the haters. I GET YOU.
4. Irv! What a guy! He reminds me of my high school friends and it warms my heart. "Can't get drunk, have to push the merry-go-round. Don't know why I even hang out with you guys." YOU GUYS. This book is really funny.
5. How Sydney savors moments that feel like magic. The writing slows down, the details feel richer somehow – even if it's just about eating frosting on top of Pop-Tarts.
6. Sydney eating Mac's Kwackers. And choking on them. But eating them anyway.
7. Layla. Layla, Layla, Layla. How she loves her family so much. How she wants to have more responsibility at the pizza shop so Mac can go to college and she masks it by highlighting how sexist it is to assume a girl can't be a leader. I LOVE IT. I LOVE HER.
8. Layla's obsession with fries. It's given me a whole new appreciation for them. I will never settle again. (Well, that's probably not true. But at least I'll be much more aware of when I am settling for subpar fries.)
9. Can I just reiterate how much I love Layla? She's not perfect by any means, but she is a good friend, fiercely loyal and protective from the very beginning. I mean, can we just remember how Layla sleeps over at Sydney's house for the first time and, in the middle of the night, moves her mattress to block the unlocked door to keep her safe from a certain creepy predator?
10. When Mac revisits the first time Sydney came into Seaside Pizza. OMFG. I DIED. STRAIGHT UP. RIP ME. I'm not even going to include the quote here because I want you all to have the same reading experience as I did.
11. Mac and Sydney's pizza deliveries, and how she is the pizza order whisperer. I love that she takes social analysis to the next level and that she wants to know what's behind each door. I RELATE TO THIS ON SO MANY LEVELS, and I love that he comes up with a system for efficiently delivering pizzas with her, but we all know that it's just a cover-up because he is a sweet precious baby.
12. Mac delivering pizzas to the middle school gymnasium and TRIGGERING THE HORMONE RUSH.
13. "Hate Spinnerbait." I die every time this comes up in any of Sarah Dessen's books.
14. The evolution of Sydney's relationship with Peyton. So much of her life and her self-perception are a side-effect of his actions. She says everything is always about Peyton, but it's a weird juxtaposition because Peyton's not here now. He's legendary in his own way, but here in Saint Anything, he's small – boxed up in prison, interacting with Sydney only in occasional, brief phone calls and in her memories. I love the way both of these things shift over time.
15. "I'm so sorry." There are a lot of sorry's in this book, but this one is different. Those three words represented so much to Sydney and they were unexpected, both to her and to me, but somehow a relief.
16. Sydney's dad at the very end of the book. My reaction (seriously though): HALLELUJAH, SYDNEY'S DAD.
While I was reading Saint Anything, I found myself loving all of the other characters (Layla, Mac, Eric, Irv, Layla's mom) but not really being able to identify with Sydney herself. But in retrospect, I do understand her – a girl who feels like a ghost, a little bit pushed around by the current, who wants to be seen and recognized for her own person and not live in the shadow of someone else, burdened by what they've done, or resigned to a certain outcome. I see myself in Sydney a little bit – in the ways that really matter – and I think that's a really special thing.