Finally, after a short trek of unsatisfying books, I found myself a little gem.
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen is about Sydney, a girl who is invisible to her family because her older brother, Peyton, overshadows her in everything he does. When Peyton is sentenced to prison after a DUI incident, Sydney is forced to move to a new school. At her new school, Sydney meets a warm cast of new friends centering on the Chathams family and she feels seen and accepted for the first time. Together, they give Sydney the strength to mend her broken relationships with her parents and brother, and to accept the guilt of her brother’s actions.
What made Saint Anything a good novel is Sydney herself. In contrast to protagonists with leaping character development, I found this story to be more about discovering Sydney for all the goodness and hurt she has. I enjoyed reading about how she handles the burden of guilt her parents refused to take on, accepts new perspectives, and still stays true to herself and her morals.
Nothing had been okay, not for a long time. And every moment that I thought I was getting close, like the one I’d had earlier, seemed to remind the universe that I didn’t deserve that, not yet.
As with any mother, Sydney’s mom is always on her child’s side. Even though the DUI incident is Peyton’s fault, Sydney’s mom worries about Peyton’s welfare more than the victim’s because otherwise, who would? Sydney’s mom is constantly trying her best to support Peyton while he is in prison, acting as if his volunteer work and mandatory school is a great achievement. Sydney’s dad is mostly a stoic fatherly figure who just works or sides with her mom, so neither of Sydney’s parents show much guilt for what happened to victim of the accident. This leaves Sydney to shoulder it all by herself.
While Peyton has his punishment of being in prison to lessen his burden of guilt, Sydney suffers from limitations she puts on herself. Amplified by the fact that her parents show little remorse for what happened, Sydney is the only one who feels as if she should be punished somehow. She does not have the courage to apologize in person to the victim, and also feels as if that is a selfish act since apologizing won’t do much for the victim – he will still be paralyzed, but she will be liberated from guilt.
This is an interesting transference of guilt from her brother to her parents and to Sydney, who was not a part of the accident at all. It shows a natural desire to balance emotions and fulfill a sense of justice, and Sydney tries to balance these emotions by believing that she is unworthy of happiness.
You get used to people being a certain way; you depend on it. And when they surprise you, for better or worse, it can shake you to your core.
Sydney remembers Peyton to be daring and brilliant. She has a vivid memory of him walking across a sinkhole when no other kid was willing to do it. When she returns to the sinkhole years later, she realizes it is not that big or dangerous.
Near the end of the book, Sydney gets a chance to talk to Peyton over the phone and we see that Peyton does not see himself as a daring or brilliant individual – only a stupid one. This shocks Sydney because of her admiration for him and at first, she does not understand how he does not see himself the way she does. It goes to show that our perceptions of someone can be very off from how they see themselves. Our perceptions are subjective to our own experiences. Just like how the sinkhole has lost its original thrill, growing up also alters our perspectives of the world.
Before I started this novel, I found a card slipped into the cover sleeve. Someone left a memo saying, “Train your mind to see the good in everything“. As our perceptions shift with new experiences and time, we must remind ourselves that there is still goodness in every person, place, and situation.
Being a good daughter, friend, and person
I’d done the right thing. I always did. It just would have been nice if someone had noticed.
I know I find a good book when I get angry for the protagonist. I took a strong liking to Sydney’s silent perseverance and respectful attitude. She is not necessarily a pushover, so I was angry at the unfair circumstances that surround her.
Sydney’s mom is afraid she will go astray like Peyton, so she is strict with her. I found her mom’s negligence towards Sydney aggravating, and it especially angered me when her own parents couldn’t even tell she was uncomfortable with Peyton’s creepy friend moving in with them. It was also unfair for Sydney’s parents to judge her friends and dismiss the opportunity to really learn who they are.
Sydney continues to listen to her parents in hopes they will come around and give her friends a chance. More than just getting the approval of her parents, Sydney wants them to understand that her friends are good people who bring out a goodness in her that she did not think she possessed.
This novel depicts the tender strings of friendship and how sometimes, friends can understand you more than family. Throughout all the conflicts Sydney faces, she stays true to who she was brought up to be – a good daughter, good friend, and a good person. As a reader, I was so glad that her parents could finally see Sydney for who she is.