Monday, February 8, 2021

Review | Saint Anything: Of pizza, first loves & delinquent brothers ❀

Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 417
Source: Bought
Genre: YA | Contemporary
My Rating: 4/5
First line: "Would the defendant please rise."
If you frequent the YA section at the bookshop, there is almost zero per cent chance you haven't heard of Sarah Dessen. I'd pin her novels as the YA equivalent of adult contemporary literary giants like Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult - formulaic, but oh-so fuzzy and warming, sprinkled with a dusting of real-life lessons and wisdom on top. Dessen has this brilliant ability to create characters that invoke empathy in her readers, and for me, Saint Anything was no exception.

Our main character, Sydney, has always lived behind the shadow of her superstar brother Peyton, whose charisma and daring nature captivates everyone he meets. To her parents, her brother can do no wrong. Bookish, "good girl" Sydney never even had a chance. But when Peyton's behaviour lands him in jail for a drunk driving incident that leaves a beloved local boy permanently handicapped, Sydney is suddenly given the spotlight ... and she discovers that being seen is not always a good thing.

It was easy for me to relate to Sydney (as a quiet bookworm having grown up with three opinionated siblings and two stubborn parents). Sydney has gotten used to living in the shadow of her brother, and when the veil is lifted, it's like her parents are seeing her for the first time. Though she is the epitome of the "good girl", her parents - particularly her mother - projects deep-seated fears that she will also end up a delinquent like Peyton. Sydney was a saint by comparison, and she was careful not to come across as anything but (which frustrated me a bit!).

Even though Peyton is physically out of the house, his living ghost continues to roam the hallways, haunting Sydney. The feelings of resentment and confusion towards her brother are understandable, especially when no one else seems to care about the kid now in a wheelchair. The staggered conversations shared between the two of them on the phone, and the progression of their relationship is raw and uncomfortably honest.

I liked the "full circle"-ness of the plot. Sydney had to go through everything in the middle of the book to finally be able to confront the thing she had been struggling with from the first page. This gives way to a satisfying and neat ending.

Complex, troubling family dynamics is one of my favourite things to read about. Their mother is completely crazy. Sadly, I didn't feel like this was over-dramatised - there are actually mothers out there who are like this, completely unaware of how toxic it is to be so controlling and overbearing. It would have been nice to learn more about their mother and why she is the way that she is.

In the wake of Peyton's incarceration, Sydney decides to change schools, where she can start anew. I adored her new friends: Layla, Mac and the rest of the gang. The dialogue really grabbed me; there was a wittiness about their speech that captured my attention, kept me invested. There was an air of kindness and respect, love and caring. Even when they bantered and argued.

I love reading about first loves, too. Sometimes pairings can feel a bit lacklustre or forced, but if there's one thing Dessen gets right it's romance. The development of Sydney's relationship was sweet, and it felt natural. This one is a slow-burner, guys! There's nothing overly dramatic that happens (other than awkward family encounters, and the tension it causes with her friendship with Layla), but I actually liked the ordinariness and friendship-vibey-ness of their love.

Saint Anything is perfect for when you're in the mood for something light-hearted and fun, while still touching on some sensitive and heavy topics. In this book, Dessen's talent for writing authentic characters and engaging dialogue shines. This YA contemporary novel about life, love, and pizza is a beautiful portrayal of the aftermath following a crime committed by a sibling. A stellar addition to the collection!

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