This week, I’m delving into the realm of YA fiction. I read two novels belonging to the genera this week: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (an old favorite) and Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen. I considered highlighting the Zusak novel, but decided against it ’cause the review would be nothing but me raving about how much I love it. Instead, I chose to discuss the newest Dessen book.
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Summary: 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.
I discovered Sarah Dessen in high school and became an instant fan. Her books Just Listen, Lock & Key, and Along for the Ride were some of my favorite reads back in the day. She’s one of the few writers where I will read anything she writes. (Mind you, this isn’t because she’s high-quality literature.)
Dessen’s novels are engaging, fun, and they go fast. Although it’s nearly 500 pages, Saint Anything took only two days to plow through. It’s the kind of book you curl up with in bed at night and end up staying up FAR too late with. You know, the “Just one more chapter…” game.
My main issue with these books is that, although they’re enjoyable, they’re highly formulaic. Her heroines are all the same– pretty high school/pre-college age girls trying to find themselves amid tumultuous family situations. Along the way, they discover a new group of friends that accept her for who she is and show her how to enjoy/approach life in a new way. Along the way, she finds love with a special, unique, insightful boy who does not see her in the way the world wants her to be, but as she really is. This is freeing… but brief. At some point, things go wrong, the relationship goes rocky, family troubles explode, and the heroine is left in a mess. By the end of the novel, though, she is able to piece things back together, learns something new about herself, her family begins to heal, and she steps into the future with her boyfriend.
There. I just summed up every single Sarah Dessen novel. Now you don’t have to read any! I’m kidding. If you like reasonably well-written stories about self-discovery and summer romances, you’ll enjoy almost all these books.
I did enjoy Saint Anything… but it followed too close to the formula and, frankly, wasn’t a stand-out. Sydney was a mildly boring, but relatable heroine. Her friends were quirky and fun, but felt like shadow copies of more interesting incarnations of the same characters in previous novels. The love interest, Mac, was likable, but a bit bland. I strongly disliked her parents–they were over-protective, judgmental, and terrible judges of character.
There was a review of Goodreads that claims the most this novel did was make them want to eat pizza… and I must say, I wholeheartedly agree. While reading the book, I enjoyed it, but don’t think I’ll be giving it a second visit.
You will like this book if you enjoy: reasonably well-written YA novels, quick reads, stories of self-discovery, family relationships, and cute summer romances.
My suggestion: Skip this book. It’s nothing special. If you want to read Dessen, go for one of her books written in the 2002-2009 range. Her earlier novels fall flat and her more recent ones are too formulaic.
See you next week for more book talk!