by Sarah Dessen
Age: Young Adult
Content Issues: Mild swearing. Underage drinking (though most of the time there are consequences for it), and a family friend who is totally a sexual predator pervert (nothing graphic, but he’s a 20 yr old trying to seduce a 16 yr old)
“It was unrealistic to expect to be constantly in the happiest place. In real life, you’re lucky just to be always somewhere nearby.”
Review by Bronto Incognito
Let me start off by stating for the record that I am not the hugest fan of contemporary YA. It just doesn’t appeal to me most of the time. Boyfriend/friend drama, checked-out parents, and other problems that are so real that they make you want to slap the characters like they’re real people.
That said, I read my first Sarah Dessen book after hearing her speak at the Austin Teen Book Festival (now Texas Teen Book Festival) about her book Dreamland which is about a teenage girl that ends up in a physically abusive relationship. Immediately I sat up straighter and said, “I have to read that.”
I have issues, I know.
So on to Saint Anything, my 3rd foray into Dessen’s work. Didn’t know much about it going in other than it was her most recent work and I’d seen some mixed reviews on it.
Overall I liked it. The main character (Sydney)’s older brother is basically the affluenza kid. So no he’s in jail and she’s trying to figure out how to live her life in the wake of his actions.
Okay, so this book hit some interesting concepts. Like how the way you see people or events is not the way other people see them, or even how a person can see themselves. And how those things can change. The way Sydney has always seen her brother is not how he sees himself and not how she sees him now.
And the way her mom sees him is not the way ANYONE sees him.
I don’t want to ruin too much before going into the spoiler-y section of this review, but I will say this: if you are an adult and know a teen reading this book you NEED to have a discussion with them (male or female) about what to do when someone else is giving them the creeps (in this case an adult male family friend paying waaaay too much attention to Sydney), even if they don’t know how to put it into words the right way. The older you get the more you learn to trust those instincts, but at this age it’s much easier to convince yourself you’re overreacting or that people won’t believe you.
But trust those instincts. Always. Even though it’s fiction, I think Sydney’s story is a perfect example of WHY you should.
Anyway, enough of that for the moment. Now on to the spoiler-y section!
So we’ll start with Sydney’s parents. Why are the parents in Contemporary YA always so checked out? Or maybe it’s just the ones I end up reading. In this case Dad’s always been that way, but mom is now obsessed with helping Peyton, the jailed older brother. She wants to create events with the other parents and celebrate jailhouse graduation ceremonies like it’s high school. She also adores Ames, her son’s adult friend that helped him get through rehab the first time.
The problem? Ames is CLEARLY trying to seduce Sydney right under her parents’ noses and they don’t seem to see it. And Sydney doesn’t want to say anything about it. At all.
I did this one on audiobook while painting my kitchen and while my phone played from across the room I kept yelling at it.
And what would I tell her anyway?
Uh, that he’s a massive creeper and you’re afraid you’re going to get raped?
That this person whom you count on and totally adore gives me the creeps?
For no specific reason I can name?
Yes yes yes!
*Cue my dog slinking off the couch and into the next room because she’s afraid I’m yelling at her.
Seriously, Sydney was super frustrating for me in this regard. The only thing that makes it excusable is her age. I remember being that age and not trusting your own judgement when someone showed interest in you, either positive or negative. You’re also afraid of what other people might say and that saying it out loud might make things worse.
But still, as a parent, I don’t care how much you trust a person (they never really say Ames’s age. I’m guessing around 20?) you DO NOT leave an adult male of that age at home alone with your 16 yr old daughter, even if his girlfriend is supposed to be there. EXACTLY FOR THIS REASON.
Honestly, even once her parents figure out what’s going on, that his intentions are not okay, they don’t get rid of him right away. They wait a few days which leads to shenanigans. Seriously, someone coming into your house and lounging on your daughter’s bed that’s not a little kid needs to get the flip out.
Also, Sydney kept feeling this rage build up inside of her at different points (not to mention at least 3x of not realizing she was holding her breath), but nothing ever came of it. She rarely acted on it. Which, I guess is true for some people. But it would have been nice to see her DO something with that anger more often.
So all that said, I really liked her friend and her boyfriend. I seriously want some of the garlic knots from the pizza place where they all work. And I like that her friend Layla is a girl with terrible taste in boys because it puts Sydney in a position of having to decide whether or not to burst her bubble and haven’t we all been there at one time or another?
Out of 5 I’d give this book like 4.5. I mean, it got me talking about it to a ton of different people while reading it, so that’s something. Sydney does go through some real growth in the story and her parents weren’t total lost causes. When they catch her breaking their rules (one of which was dumb, but one of which was fairly standard) they don’t take it lying down. And yeah, maybe mom goes overboard due to what older brother did, but she doesn’t crumble just because her daughter complains. Which is good. Yeah, Sydney wants to go and do the thing, but mom says no, let’s start smaller and sticks to it. It sucks, but thus is growing up.
The one last, even more spoilery thing I’ll say…….
is this. I REALLY wish they would have had Sydney press charges against Ames in the end. Yeah, he didn’t do more than kiss her, and yeah, he was trying to retaliate legally with her dad and yeah, his punishment wouldn’t have been that bad, BUT this guy is a predator. Kicking him out of your house stops what’s happening in your house. It doesn’t stop him from trying the same tricks with someone else’s daughter. The way you stop him is pressing charges. Even if it’s light it makes sure if this happens again the next punishment doesn’t let him off so easily.
If it was me, I would have told my kid to press charges regardless of any financial issues we had. There should have been a discussion.
That is all.