23009402Saint Anything
 by Sarah Dessen
Published by Viking on May 11, 2004
Genres: young adult, contemporary fiction, contemporary romance, coming-of-age
Pages: 417
Format: Hardcover
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Rating: ★★★½ 

In my last review of a Sarah Dessen novel, I said that Sarah Dessen writes Hallmark movie novels. I mentioned how this was both a good and a bad thing, but how, overall, it worked well for The Truth About Forever, my first Dessen read.

Here, unfortunately, some of the magic was missing.

A fellow reviewer once remarked that Dessen’s novels often have very similar plots, with minor variations. (Character names and quirks, minor conflicts, and whatnot are different with each book. In The Truth About Forever, Macy was trying to process the grief of losing her father, while, in Saint Anything, Sydney is struggling to cope with her older brother’s poor choices and the shadow it’s cast over their family.) And I think that reviewer was pretty much right. Allow me to present you an outline of the typical Dessen novel. (This will likely spoil pretty much all of them for you, so don’t read the following list if you’d prefer to remain unspoiled.)     

  1. Our MC (main character), an upper-middle-class, straight-A student, is struggling to maintain her image of perfection and to not break under the pressure of her very precise, compartmentalized life, which revolves around studying (usually for the SAT), college applications, and keeping up a good impression. Her life is pretty good, except that she feels lonely and unsure of her life vision.
  2. MC meets someone (usually a charismatic girl) whom she becomes close friends with quickly. This friend introduces the MC to her family/group of friends, a warm, welcoming group of people with which our MC feels like she can be herself.
    • She is especially interested in the quiet, mysterious older brother/friend of her best friend. (Bonus points if she’s dating a “perfect” guy whom she’s clearly not compatible with.)
  3. The MC becomes a part of the group/family, discovers herself, begins to heal, and starts a relationship with the mysterious guy. (More bonus points if he’s a guy everyone’s interested in and if someone else asked our MC whether or not the two of them were dating before they were actually going out.)
  4. MC’s parents (usually the mother) find out. MC is forced to cut off all contact with her friends, further restricted with her schedule, and forced to study even more instead of interact with said friends. Her relationship with her boyfriend also suffers a little, because she misses him and her friends.
  5. MC obeys these newly-made rules until the climax, wherein something disastrous happens which forces the MC to defy her parents rules and help her friends somehow.
  6. MC’s parents realize perhaps they were wrong to crack down on their daughter so quickly, and ease up a bit. The MC’s family dynamics get better. People start healing, and the MC gets to be with her boyfriend again.
  7. The End

Not that this is a bad plot, by any means. It’s just that, if you’re going to keep recycling it, you have to make each different spin on it good enough to be unique.

All the potential for that is here–the quirky characters, the important messages of moving on from grief and self-acceptance, the relatable conflict our MC has to deal with regarding coming into her own and discovering who she is, the romantic relationship between the MC and her man–but I felt it never got fully realized. Everything here was good, but never quite great. It came close, but it never quite made it there, and I think that’s because I know what to expect now. This doesn’t read like something very remarkable because it’s not really new to me.

If you haven’t read a Dessen novel yet, try her older stuff (I haven’t read it yet, though, so I can’t vouch for it), like Just ListenLock and Key, and The Truth About Forever. If you really, really enjoy her writing and you’re okay with reading various spins on the same plot, go ahead and check this book out, too, while you’re at it. As for me, I’ll read Lock and Key, Just Listen, and maybe Dreamland, but, unless I hear raving reviews from future books of hers, I don’t think I’ll be reading more Dessen books after that. I, personally, need more variety.


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