Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

9780451474704When I started this book, I was less than impressed. It wasn’t that it was a bad book… on the contrary, it was well-written and mildly engaging. But after a slew of good and great books, I just couldn’t think of Saint Anything as anything more than a solid, average, 3-star book. Not bad, but certainly not as good as making it onto almost every “Best of 2015” book lists implied it should be.

Now, I’m going to tell you guys something radical. A little more than halfway through this book, everything changed. I’ve rarely seen a book go through such a drastic transformation that far in, but Saint Anything went from being a solidly okay book to being solidly good, almost great (the second half was flat-out great). I still didn’t think this book was a jump-up-and-down-and-recommend-to-every-single-person-you-meet kind of book, but it was no longer a book I was mildly interested and invested in. By the end, I cared strongly about the characters, the plot, and the resolutions being reached. I was rooting for all of my favorite characters and eagerly awaiting the demise of my least favorites.

If you’re looking for a book that deals specifically with guilt, family tragedy (other than death), and how each person shoulders grief and guilt separately, this is a great book for you. It’s a bit of a niche, to be sure, but certainly a worthwhile read, and one I’m going to keep in my back pocket in case I ever meet anyone who could use the powerful messages this book contains.

Now, I should go ahead and come out here and admit that I’m not a huge Sarah Dessen fan. I’ve only read a couple of her books, and I didn’t find any of them particularly life-changing (Saint Anything was by far my favorite). So, if you are a big Sarah Dessen fan, I’m sure that this book will impress you, and I think you should definitely pick it up. I can see why it made so many year-end “Best of” lists last year, though I don’t think it would have made any of mine. The problem with reading a ton of books every year is that you read so many extraordinary, life-altering, amazing books, it’s easy to get accustomed to those and lose your taste for good books. I can’t in good conscious say this book was more than good, in my opinion.

There’s a slow build-up, and the first half is pretty solid but fails to really suck you in. If you get through the slow burn of the first half though, you’re left with a solidly great second half and conclusion. If the first two hundred pages had been better, this book could easily have merited higher than four stars, but I took an average from what I’d have rated the first half and what I’d have rated the second half, and just couldn’t give it higher than a four (which shows how great I found the second half since I thought the first half was pretty meh).

I LOVED the cast of characters, and thought they were all very well developed (especially Layla and Mac, and really the whole Chatham family, who were my favorite characters), and Dessen does and extraordinary job exploring what happens to a family when one member makes an irreversible mistake and the consequences reverberate. She manages the topics of guilt and shame beautifully, and I would have liked so much more of that touch in the beginning. There was just too much lead-in to the heart of the matter, when I could easily have been thrown straight into the thick of things and understood what was going on perfectly.

I feel very conflicted about this one (if you couldn’t gather that) but I know it’s one I’m going to keep, because the second half really was that good. So, I don’t know, maybe just read the second half? I’m kidding, but seriously, if you get bored in the two hundred pages, know that the climb is worth it. It’s beautiful on the other side.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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