Saint Anything: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Saint Anything by Sarah DessenSydney has always lived in her charismatic older brother Peyton’s shadow. But it’s hard to hide after Peyton’s DUI and its horrible aftermath pushes Sydney and her family into the public eye. Sydney’s parents seem intent on ignoring Peyton’s role in the car accident and the damage he caused. Meanwhile Sydney is haunted and infuriated by it.

Hoping for a fresh start Sydney switches schools and looks for a new normal in the midst of her family turmoil. She finds it in the unlikely form of Seaside Pizza and the Chathams—the boisterous family owners. Layla draws Sydney into her family’s world as if they’ve always been friends while her brother Mac makes Sydney feel safe for the first time in a long while. Finally Sydney feels like she’s the one being seen and with that certainty she might be able to see herself and what she wants too in Saint Anything (2015) by Sarah Dessen.

I’ve been following Sarah Dessen’s publications for a few years. She is a touchstone name in YA and I am constantly order replacement copies of her books for my library as the old ones wear out. But I have never felt like any of her books really clicked for me. As soon as I heard about Saint Anything it felt like this book would be it: the make it or break it Sarah Dessen book for me. I’d either love it unequivocally or it would confirm that not every author can work for every reader. But it turns out, much like Sydney’s story, my feelings about the book weren’t so clear cut.

Saint Anything is filled with a quirky cast of characters including Mac Chatham, the quiet and stoic boy Sydney meets at Seaside Pizza who quickly becomes a steady and constant source of support for her. Mac, like the rest of the Chathams, is a great character. But what give me pause and what continues to frustrate me about this book is Mac’s backstory. When Sydney meets him she is immediately taken aback by how attractive Mac is and baffled at his utter lack of awareness of his own good looks and their inherent power (two things Peyton routinely used to get his own way before he was arrested). During the story we learn that Mac used to be fat until he made drastic diet changes and started seriously hiking. It’s a very personal response but everything about Mac’s storyline and his weight irritated me. I didn’t like how it was portrayed and didn’t like that it was part of the story at all in the way that it connotes finding a way to be true to yourself with also being thin. Mac’s backstory became a sour note in this otherwise sweet story.

As sometimes happens in longer novels Saint Anything also starts to lose momentum as it builds to the final act. Of course there is an unexpected romance but that added with a friend’s ill advised relationship and the rest of the plot made the final third of the novel feel bloated and, because there was so much to do, the ending itself seemed rushed.

Sydney’s relationship with her family at the beginning of Saint Anything is heartbreaking and it’s so clear that the Chathams are the jolt that Sydney needs to start making changes–not just in asking for more of her parents’ attention but in realizing that she deserves more. I love that aspect of the story. Sydney’s growth as she works through her own grief and regret for Peyton’s drunk driving accident are incredibly powerful. Watching Sydney try to ignore and ultimately confront the unwanted attentions of Peyton’s older friend is tense and utterly relatable.

If this book sounds at all appealing (or you’ve already read it) I also urge you to check out the essay Dessen wrote near Saint Anything‘s release for Seventeen: “I Thought Dating An Older Guy Was Cool — Until I Sensed That Something Was Very Wrong

Possible Pairings: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett,, Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake, Between Us and the Moon by Rebecca Maizel, Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonneblick

The Moon and More: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Moon and More by Sarah DessenEmaline’s family has always been complicated with volatile arguments between her and her two older sisters and her mother who has always wanted to give Emaline the moon and more. That isn’t even considering her dad and her biological father. Or the younger brother she barely knows.

Emaline has enough to worry about the summer before college without thinking about her relatives. Her job at the family real estate business means that she is busy checking in renters and catering to the whims of high-maintenance clients like the filmmaker who plans on filming a documentary about a local artist during the summer. Never mind that the artist in question wants nothing to do with the project.

With college just around the corner, Emaline knew this summer would be different. She didn’t expect troubles with her boyfriend. She couldn’t have guessed that her father would make a sudden appearance in Colby. And at the start of the summer, she certainly had no idea how everything would come together–not to give her the moon but some things that are just as valuable in The Moon and More (2013) by Sarah Dessen.

Set in the beach town of Colby, The Moon and More perfectly captures the breezy, aimless feel of a quiet summer. With evocative settings and an equally strong cast of characters, Dessen aptly portrays the mixed feelings that come with a summer that starts full of promise and turns into something entirely unexpected.

At over four hundred pages (hardcover), The Moon and More has a plot that meanders across an entire summer to show readers an entire family as well as a picturesque town. Although the book felt a bit long at times, all of the pieces come together in the end to create a full picture. Emaline is a great narrator; she knows exactly who she is and exactly what she wants. Although she occasionally loses her way, Dessen navigates Emaline’s complicated choices with skill and grace.

The family dynamics in The Moon and More are fascinating as Emaline tries to figure out what a relationship with the father she barely knows would even look like. With half-siblings and step-parents it was also nice to see Emaline’s family was just that–a family without any complicated labels.

At its start, The Moon and More is a story of summer love. By the end, this book becomes a lot more as Emaline begins to understand who she is and, more importantly, who she wants to be.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Moonglass by Jessi Kirby, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa C. Walker, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

What Happened to Goodbye: A Review

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah DessenMclean Sweet used to have the perfect life. But that was years ago and miles away. Before her parents’ bitter divorce. Before she and her father started moving from town to town like it was going out of style.

It was long before Mclean started reinventing herself in each new town. Eliza, Lizbet, Beth. All of her personas have a different story: cheerleader, drama nerd, student government junkie. It’s easy to live the part once you choose the role, once you let the moments choose you. Especially when none of them are the real Mclean. Especially when Mclean doesn’t even know who the real her is anymore.

Things are different in Lakeview. Instead of adopting a new persona for this newest town, Mclean starts being herself–or as close to it as she can be anymore. Seemingly random moments come together leading Mclean to friends and maybe even a home all while forcing her to do the unthinkable: just be real in What Happened to Goodbye (2011) by Sarah Dessen.

What Happened to Goodbye is Dessen’s tenth novel and, as it turns out, this one proves that her writing really does live up to all of the hype.

Dessen’s writing is literary and immediately appealing as she evokes not only a town and a lifestyle but also Mclean’s emotions as she struggles with what it means to make a place for herself in yet another new community as Dessen brings up a lot of interesting threads about what family, and home, really mean.

The story here meanders towards the end in a way that makes perfect sense and ultimately fits perfectly for the story and the  characters. And happily so since What Happened to Goodbye is all about the characters–Mclean, of course, but also her friends and her family as well. Every bit of this story is character driven and all of it comes together to great effect in a book that is really quite lovely.

Possible Pairings: Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, Moonglass by Jessi Kirby, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

*This book was acquired at BEA 2011