A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Saint Anything, the thoughtful 12th novel by Sarah Dessen (The Moon and More), deals with underage drinking and substance abuse in a touching and realistic way. Two peripheral characters have made a mess of their lives -- and others' -- through drug and alcohol use. Central characters occasionally drink, but drunk characters are presented as repulsive, making selfish choices that cause widespread damage. Well-intentioned but distracted parents make some poor choices but eventually work hard to make things right. The victim of a sexual assault chooses not to press charges against her attacker, with no discussion of why she made that decision. Due to the mature content, we recommend this book for a slighter older audience than the publisher suggests.
What's the story?
Sydney has always felt overshadowed by her charismatic but troubled big brother. After he’s imprisoned for injuring a boy while driving drunk, she feels more invisible than ever: Her mom is obsessively focused on him, and Sydney’s expected to fall in step. She seeks anonymity and a fresh start by enrolling in the public high school. Before long, she's pulled into the orbit of the Chatham family: lively, welcoming Layla is soon her best friend, and Layla's quiet brother, Mac, and their friends make her part of their circle. Sydney takes solace from her time with the Chathams, especially their mother, whose health is failing. When her own mother finally takes notice of her, Sydney fears her carefully built world will fall apart.
Is it any good?
Sydney, the likable, relatable heroine of this well-crafted romance, is a perfect example of how complicated life can be even when you try to make the right choices and be a good friend and daughter. Prolific author Sarah Dessen can always be counted on for nuanced characters and naturally unfolding plots. She's at her best in SAINT ANYTHING: The opening is high drama, but then Dessen settles into a comfortably paced, intimate story of a teen trying to find her place in her family and among her friends. The core teenage characters soon feel like familiar friends. Both maternal figures are simplistic characterizations, though their roles -- sage-sounding board and controlling disciplinarian -- will resonate with teens.
The rippling effects of alcohol and drug use are treated subtly but firmly. Dessen is less careful with a story line involving a sexual predator: The victim is dismissive of counseling and, without explanation, decides not to press charges.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the depiction of alcohol and drug use in Saint Anything. Do you think it's realistic?
Why are Sarah Dessen's books so appealing to teens? Do you see this as a romance or a coming-of-age story?
How would you handle the creepy presence of Ames? Whom would you bring your concerns to?
- Author: Sarah Dessen
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, High School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: May 5, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 432
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.