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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Saint Anything

Saint Anything coverSaint Anything, Sarah Dessen
Viking, May 2015
Reviewed from final copy

Truth time: I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that Saint Anything is the first Sarah Dessen novel I’ve read; I didn’t read YA when I was actually in that demographic and she was never on my syllabi as an education or library student. Although I had always heard good things about Dessen, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. The cover is gorgeous but vague and the title’s significance is unclear even after reading the jacket copy. However, a few things became clear after reading this novel: first, the title and cover couldn’t be more perfect for the story contained within (high fives all around, book team); second, reading Sarah Dessen when I was a teen would have made me happy; and finally, I had so many feels while reading that at one point, I had to get up and walk away from the book because I wanted a really beautiful moment to sink in.

Although reviews have been mostly positive, it has only received one star (from Publishers Weekly). We had Saint Anything on our radar thanks to reader Cecilia, who mentioned it in response to our final post last season. If you’ve read my reviews before (::cough:: Eleanor & Park ::cough:: I’ll Give You the Sun) you know how I feel about romance and relationships in YA lit. Falling in love when you’re a teen is serious stuff and it takes a skilled writer to capture that experience authentically. So why isn’t it a given that we look at YA stories about romance with the same critical lens as other “serious” books? That’s a whole conversation for another day (or the comments). For now, let’s talk Saint Anything.


I’m venturing into spoiler territory. Tread carefully beyond this point. 

In terms of Printz criteria, Saint Anything is strongest in its character development. Dessen’s execution of theme is blunt but present. It’s very clear from early on that she’s interested in exploring how and why people change, and more specifically, how a teen’s sense of self can change as they readjust their understanding of others. Dessen also takes on drugs, alcohol abuse, prison, sexual abuse, and living with chronic illness, each issue presented through a character’s struggle. She has everything hang around Sydney so that she’s the emotional core, making the “issues” serve her character development as a girl trying to carve out a sense of identity when she’s always been in the shadow of her older, delinquent brother. The text doesn’t feel weighed down by all of the “issues” (because it always serves character); however, the integration isn’t always elegant. When Sydney describes why she and her new friend Layla have a connection, Dessen just flat out tells the reader (through Sydney), “…that was the thing. Layla got it. Not just my uneasiness with Ames, but also how I felt about Peyton. Rosie might not have been in jail, but her problems had spilled over to affect all of the Chathams… . ” It certainly gets the job done, but the explanation was redundant because she had already done the work of showing the growing friendship.

Sydney and Layla’s relationship is at the heart of the novel, and just as important as Sydney’s romance with Layla’s brother, Mac. All three characters are developed nicely, each having an inner life and objectives. Layla does veer into “cool new friend” tropey territory but as Sydney gets to know her, she softens into a real character. Of the trio, Mac is underdeveloped, being almost impossibly good as the quiet, beautiful musician boy who used to be fat. But his dynamic with Sydney gives him life. The adults may make frustrating decisions but you can see how they got there because they are whole people. As she does with theme though, Dessen spells out the psychology too much. The writing already allows for readers to make the discovery on their own.

It doesn’t quite reach Printz heights, but Saint Anything is so close. Despite its flaws (and really, I wouldn’t call them flaws so much as limitations) I connected with this book because Dessen understands people so well. This story that she’s telling, we’ve all been there. It’s about those times in your life when you find people you who make your life brighter and fill a space you didn’t even know was there. They make you feel welcome and safe and loved when you didn’t realize that’s all you needed. It’s a quintessential coming-of-age experience that she has captured beautifully.

Some stray thoughts:

  • Ames made my skin crawl. Good job, Sarah Dessen for making that happen, but ew.
  • Peyton, Sydney’s brother who is in jail for drunk driving and seriously injuring another person, goes through a very interesting arc of his own. Sydney’s struggle with their relationship, how she feels about living in someone’s shadow, and grappling with the fact that her life isn’t entirely her own because of his actions, are all fascinating aspects of her development.
  • “I would have loved to know how it felt, just once, to have something fall apart and see options instead of endings” – A time that I didn’t mind having Sydney explicitly say the thing we’re meant to understand from the scene.
  • That time the book made me get up because the feels were so strong? It’s a quiet stunner at the end of chapter 14.
  • The carousel! OMG.
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About Joy Piedmont

Joy Piedmont is a librarian and technology integrator at LREI - Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School. Prior to becoming a librarian, Joy reviewed and reported for Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch. She reviews for SLJ and is the President of the Hudson Valley Library Association. When she’s not reading or writing about YA literature, she’s compulsively consuming culture of all kinds, learning to fly (on a trapeze), and taking naps with her cat, Oliver. Find her on Twitter @InquiringJoy, email her at joy dot piedmont at gmail dot com, or follow her on Tumblr. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, HVLA or any other initialisms with which she is affiliated.

Comments

  1. Somehow, I can’t imagine this getting a Printz – has Dessen ever been honored before? – despite the fact that I read more Dessen as a teen than any other famous/bestselling YA author.

    I liked this a lot – I don’t think it’s as great as Dessen has been before, but it’s one of her best in years. I liked that the tone matched Sydney’s characterization: it can be grieving and angry, but it’s never dramatic in its grief or anger, and that sells Sydney’s reticence really well.

    As she does with theme though, Dessen spells out the psychology too much. The writing already allows for readers to make the discovery on their own.

    I absolutely agree – she can be more seamless here, and more subtle.

    What I found most interesting about this novel is that it isn’t a story of self-discovery. Instead, Sydney already knows who she is, and she’s trying to make her life work around that.

  2. Thanks for the shout out! I enjoyed this a lot, although I agree that Dessen has other work that is more subtle and nuanced. As always, I love her take on friendship and family.

  3. Joy Piedmont says:

    “I liked that the tone matched Sydney’s characterization: it can be grieving and angry, but it’s never dramatic in its grief or anger, and that sells Sydney’s reticence really well.”

    – Such a great point. She’s a very emotionally astute character and the voice/tone match that.

  4. I have not read this one, although I have enjoyed all of Dessen’s work that I have read. I think she’s this generation’s Judy Blume — she writes the books that teens will remember when they look back on their adolescent reading.
    But such books don’t always win prizes, eh?

  5. I think this one could lock up her long-overdue Edwards Award.

  6. Mary Lou White says:

    I know this is a discussion about literary qualities and every criticism above is valid in those terms. I just want to interject that there is a purpose in spelling out emotion and psychology in YA lit. We know that teenagers feel emotions intensely, but they also often have not yet developed a vocabulary to express or explain those feelings. Dessen does this so well and I am guessing that is one of the reasons she chooses to say so much about what Sydney is feeling and how Sydney comes to understand her feelings and experiences. It may not win her awards, but it serves her young readers well.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      And her sales. There are many reasons Dessen is a perennial bestseller — the way in which she writes stories that are developmentally just right is doubtless one of them.

  7. Always in the Shadow
    Have you ever wondered what the victim’s family is going through? The realistic fictional novel, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen is a romance novel written for young adults and older, the age range is from about 15 years of age or older. In this novel you are carried along the journey of a family who’s son has committed an immense crime.
    This book is about a family of four, the characters included the mother, father, Peyton, and Sydney. They are a very united family, or at least that is what the parents believe, but Sydney does not agree. After the incident, Sydney realizes even more how disconnected she is from her family.
    This book was recommended to me by the Arcadia High School librarian; he said absolutely amazing things about this book. This book stood to its expectations one hundred percent. This book is amazing from the book title, and cover, all the way to the text itself. The author of this book, Sarah Dessen, won the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Young Adult Fiction in 2009, and this novel that she wrote demonstrates perfectly why she won the award. This book had me intrigued from beginning to end, and that is saying a lot because I personally am not a big fan of reading. However, this book was unlike any other book I have ever read this book has a very well thought out plot, setting, conflict, and rising action. The book has you on the edge of your seat from the very beginning sentence which says: “ Would the defendant please rise”, the jury says in the Sarah Dessen book. As you read the book you are carried through the life of Sydney, alongside of her you go through a series of many emotions which include disappointment, sadness, happiness, and guilt. All these emotions are caused by her family, who she does not feel connected to. She makes it known throughout the story that she does not feel united with her family because they don’t understand her. As the novel continues, you begin to discover that Peyton no longer is the good little boy from the lower campus of Perkins Day, he is now a grown boy who has moved up to the Upper school campus of Perkins Day. That causes him to take a couple wrong turns. However, no matter what Peyton did, in his parents eyes he would never do anything wrong. The one who always ended up paying the consequences was Sydney herself, but she did not really mind that. Even when all her parents could focus on was her brother, she still managed to get through it and always think of others before herself. As the novel continues she begins to make new friends. Also her life begins to go back to normal or at least as close to normal as possible. She also gets into a relationship which causes her to become happier, and later begins to think about college. Also her relationships with her parents improves immensely. By the end of the book Sydney is no longer in the shadow, she is now herself.
    All in all, this book is hands down the best book someone has ever recommended to me. I have not finished a book in at least three years; however, this book broke that record. This book was so intriguing that it caused me to not be able to book the book down, and I was able to finish the book in a matter of days. I one hundred percent recommend this book to anyone who is looking to get back into reading. I also recommend it to anyone who is a young adult or older, looking for a book full of adventure, suspense, and self-discovery.

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  1. […] 2017 Margaret A. Edwards Award, sponsored by SLJ, paid tribute to Sarah Dessen, author of Dreamland: A Novel (Viking, 2000) and many others, for significant and lasting […]

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