Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

This is it! I’ve reached the end of my Summer Sundays with Sarah! Look out for my wrap up on Thursday with my thoughts on each book and all of the connections I found amongst them!

“You never knew what lay ahead; the future was one thing that could never be broken, because it had not yet had the chance to be anything. One minute you’re walking through a dark woods, alone, and then the landscape shifts, and you see it. Something wondrous and unexpected, almost magical, that you never would have found had you not ket going.”

saint anything

Synopsis from GoodreadsPeyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and – lately – concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident? Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac: gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

Feelings: One thing I love about Dessen’s books (consistently) are her characterizations. Each character seems so real and their dialogue is on point. I can hear these conversations happening in my head (beyond straight words on a page) and can see the characters coming to life. Sydney and Mac and Layla all felt like real people. I read these 400+ pages super quickly because I was invested in their lives from the beginning.

Issues: Why would Sydney’s parents have Ames and Marla stay with her for an entire weekend? That’s so obviously a terrible idea. It just didn’t make any sense. I get that they were trusting of Ames because he was like a surrogate son, but also..he wasn’t. He hung out there in the afternoons, but he wasn’t their son. How much did they really know about him? If they’d even questioned it before going through with it, it would feel more realistic, but they didn’t. Super weird. Speaking of that, what was the purpose of the Ames story arc? Sydney never confided in her parents about how he made her feel. Did he wake her parents up to what was going on around them? Not reeeeaallly. There were so many conflicts in this story that I feel a few of them could have been taken out and turned into their own books. This is one of those conflicts.

I really wanted Mac to not remind me of Owen (from Just Listen), but it just couldn’t be helped. The demeanor, the kind and protective attitude towards his sister, the pizza deliveries…he just didn’t seem like his own man, in the Dessen universe. I was disappointed by that. He wasn’t necessarily memorable…I’ll just forever think of him as that kind that reminded me of Owen.

Characters: Having said that about Mac, I did still like him! Maybe because I also liked Owen… I mean, when he recalls what Sydney was wearing the first time they met – so precious. And the way he really sees Sydney…adorable.

Sydney is a dynamic character. She does experience growth and change throughout the course of the book, in the sense that she discovers her value and worth. Is she a frustrating teenage girl? Ya darn tootin’. I wish she’d gotten a little more resolution with her parents (and that they’d had a come-to-Jesus meeting about why she didn’t mention how creepy Ames was).

Layla – the BFF character for the win! I knew I’d like her from the very beginning. She’s so perceptive and kind. The way she stayed with Sydney all weekend and slept in front of her bedroom door made ME feel safe and valued. I want a friend like Layla! I want to read a Layla spinoff – but no Spence.

Final thoughts: I think this was a good book. Not my favorite, but it had some redeeming qualities. And it reads like Dessen’s great books – easy to get caught up in, easy to breeze through. There are other books I’d recommend for first time Dessen readers, but if you’re a fan of hers and you haven’t picked this one up yet, I say go for it.

Pick this up if you liked:

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen (This book has a few of the same issues it tackles, but Saint Anything is just better overall.)

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Goodreads rating: 4.04/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.5/5

My rating: 4/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Advertisements

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

I have almost completed my quest of reading all of Sarah Dessen’s books! One more!

“The truth was, there was no way everything could be the Best. Sometimes, when it came to events and people, it had to be okay to justbe.”

moon and more

Synopsis from GoodreadsThe perfect life?  At first glance, Emaline seems to have it all. A great boyfriend, a close-knot family, an idyllic beach town to call home. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough. Then she meets Theo, an ambitious young New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. He’s sophisticated and exciting, and thinks Emaline is destined for bigger things. Emaline wants the moon and more, but can she balance where she comes from with where she’s going?

Feelings: I ended up liking this book a lot more than I thought I would. It wasn’t long before I was highly invested in these characters and had chosen sides in this Luke vs. Theo debacle. (This is like when everyone was Team Peeta and I was over here like NO NO NO PICK GALE.) I had my theories about where things were going and why certain things were happening, then everything would change. This book kept me engaged and interested!

Issues: I couldn’t figure out why Clyde was insistent on Emaline being in the middle of everything…why does he care about her? What connection do they have?

Characters: I liked Emaline. I don’t always super connect with Dessen’s female leads, but I could really understand Emaline. I think she’s one of those people that some people wouldn’t connect with, but she and I clicked. (Not sure what that says about me..) I thought it was really interesting how she got to watch her absent father parent Benji. Not everyone gets the chance to come to terms with the type of person their absent parent really is, accept it, and get past it. I enjoyed reading about her family dynamic and how she approached the issues that surfaced as the story went along.

Luke is that great male character that Dessen is so great at writing. He’s the quintessential guy: charming, attractive, swoon-worthy, confident, thoughtful…I mean he’s not perfect…and he made a mistake…but he’s still great. I was rooting for him the whole time.

I liked that Emaline’s BFFs in this book weren’t a group of girls. Girl friends are great and all, but the dynamic of having 1 girl BFF and 1 guy BFF was great to see. It brought a different little something to this story. Plus…Morris is…well, Morris.

At first I kept thinking, Why is Theo even here? But I really think Emaline needed to experience a different kind of relationship (consider she and Luke had been together for so long). She needed to find out who she was. I’m not saying she found her identity in Theo or anything like that, but in being with him, she realized what she really wanted and even better, what she deserved. Part of me wishes that she and Luke had run back to each other in the end, but I’m glad she went off to college with some Emaline focus, rather than a boy. Also, Theo is kind of a creep. Bye, Theo.

Final thoughts: I really liked this book! This felt like a Dessen beach read more than some, since there is so much actual beach happening. I’d put it in my Top 5 favorite Dessen books! I’d recommend it if you haven’t read Dessen before and you’re not sure where to start.

Pick this up if you liked:

Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Goodreads rating: 3.63/5

Amazon.com rating: 3.9/5

My rating: 4.5/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen

Welcome to another edition of Sundays with Sarah! It’s time we talk about Dessen’s 8th book!

“It’s a lot easier to be lost than found. It’s the reason we’re always searching and rarely discovered–so many locks not enough keys.”

9780142414729_LockAndKey_CV.indd

Synopsis from GoodreadsUnlock your heart and the rest will follow. Ruby is used to taking care of herself. But now that she’s living with her sister, she’s got her own room, she’s going to a good school, and her future looks bright. Plus there’s an adorable boy next door. Can Ruby learn to open her heart and let him in?

Feelings: Let’s get straight to it. I really liked this book. This book felt really unique; I never had an “I’ve heard this story before” kind of moment. One thing that Dessen tackles really well are the big, very real issues. The main one this story focuses on is homelessness and difficult parent-child relationships, including abandonment and abuse. We also learned a lot about trust, second chances, and allowing ourselves to succeed. I really felt like our main character Ruby went full circle. She starts out needing help, she fights it, she learns to accept it, she learns to notice when others need help, she learns how to give help.

Issues: Once again, I wasn’t fully satisfied by the ending. I say “once again” because that’s a common thread between me and Dessen’s books. We spend so much time building tension and conflict, then it’s just over and eh sure…a sprinkle of resolution. Also, I got a little worried when during Ruby’s first night with Jamie and Cora, she meets “the boy”. But it really wasn’t all about him, which I was glad for. Ruby had a lot of stuff to tackle before getting all moony and Juney.

Characters: I love Dessen’s little “Easter eggs”, or small references to her other characters from previous books. This book had more than usual and I’m all over it! This was one of the main reasons that I wanted to read her books right after each other, because I didn’t want to miss these references. We saw Owen and Annabel, Kristy and Bert, as well as a reference to Kiki Sparks and an appearance from Barbara Starr. Rogerson was there, too, but he can go away.

Ruby and Nate are a great duo. They both have their own issues and baggage, they both have secrets, and they both work through them in a natural way. (Meaning, they don’t heavily rely on each other to survive.) Ruby reads like such a different main, female character from Dessen’s other books and Nate is a primetime love interest. He doesn’t just swoop in and rescue Ruby, but HE needs HER just as much as it’s the other way around. I found myself just really appreciating this story from start to finish.

As usual, Dessen’s side characters are great. Jamie and Cora added a lot of balance and stability to the storyline and I loved them.

Final thoughts: This wasn’t my favorite Dessen book, but I still really enjoyed it. As usual, I’d highly recommend her books if you’re looking for a summertime read that has some depth. She doesn’t write fluff pieces, that’s for sure! This book in particular had a lot of spirit and realness as the characters discover the meanings of friendship and family. I’d definitely recommend!

Pick this up if you liked:

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

On the Fence by Kasie West

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Goodreads rating: 4.02/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.3/5

My rating: 4.25/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Welcome to another Sunday with Sarah, where I review all of Sarah Dessen’s books!

“There comes a time in every life when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you’d better learn to know the sound of it. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying.”

just listen

Synopsis from GoodreadsAnnabel Green is “the girl who has everything” — at least that’s what she portrays in her modeling shoots. But Annabel’s life is far from perfect. Her friendship with Sophie ended bitterly,and her older sister’s eating disorder is weighing down the entire family. Isolated and ostracized at school and at home, Annabel retreats into silent acceptance. Then she meets Owen — intense, music obsessed, and determined to always tell the truth. And with his guidance, Annabel learns to just listen to herself and gains the courage to speak honestly. But will she be able to tell everyone what really happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends?

Feelings: I really liked the way this book was structured. From the first chapter, we know that something happened to Annabel. By chapter 4, we’re digging into some very real issues at the heart of the Greene family, but still left wondering what exactly happened to Annabel. The way Dessen weaved the past and the story’s present together was skillfully done. I never felt like I was left hanging and I didn’t get frustrated with the lack of information. I began piecing the story together and it made sense for the story to come together that way, as Annabel is figuring out how to voice what happened. As she finds safety with Owen and discovers her voice again, we get a little bit more insight.

This book reminded me of This Lullaby in a lot of ways, but also not at all. Ha! This story focused a lot on music and it’s impact on people, while This Lullaby had a lot to do with the band Truth Squad and the song that Remy’s father had written for her before he died. Also in this book, we actually saw some of our old Truth Squad friends! Hate Spinnerbait! It was nice to “see” some familiar faces in the band, as well as Remy.

Issues: I would have liked some kind of reconciliation with Sophie, or at least some closure there. They didn’t have to end up being BFFs again (because let’s face it, that was a pretty toxic relationship) but Sophie being on a path to healing of her own would have been nice. Also, I kind of felt like we flew through the resolution. We spent the whole book building up to Annabel being able to speak her truth to those who would listen and one chapter later, THE END.

Characters: Somehow, Dessen is able to write characters that are so different from each other and so very real. There have been numerous Dessen heroines that I’ve identified with for different reasons. It’s like if you combined all of her girls together, you’d have me. Annabel is no different. She’s harboring a secret and is scraping by as “fine.” She wants to be nice and doesn’t want to be honest because she avoids conflict, but Owen is so totally opposite of that. He is straight forward, but he isn’t brutish. He listens to Annabel (for the most part) and as a result, she finally finds her voice. I’m all about that kind of relationship.

This Dessen book didn’t have that dynamic friend group like we saw in The Truth About Forever and This Lullaby, but we did get to dig a little deeper into family conflicts. I love the sister dynamic of this story. Dessen really captures what it’s like to try and fulfill the various sister roles and the pressures of measuring up to your siblings.

There was a lot of tension happening between a lot of characters. There were some micro-conflicts and then a couple of larger conflicts, all tied together with one major overarching conflict. This story was full of misunderstandings and near misses, but that’s life, right? Those moments were intentional; it’s not like there were plot holes or annoying gaps in Dessen’s writing.

Final thoughts: This book left me doing a lot of self-reflection. I actually cried before I got to the halfway mark…it was just really compelling. There were also some sweet, funny moments mixed in, so it wasn’t just this dark, heavy read. I know a lot of people see Dessen’s writing as formulaic (girl has issue, girl meets boy who helps her face issue, story climax resulting in girl and boy going separate ways, reconciliation), but this one just felt different somehow. I think of all Dessen’s books, this would be the first I’d recommend.

Pick this up if you liked:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Goodreads rating: 4.07/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.5/5

My rating: 4.75/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Welcome to Week 5 of Sundays with Sarah!

“‘Listen…the truth is, nothing is guaranteed…So don’t be afraid. Be alive.'”

truth about forever

Synopsis from GoodreadsA long, hot summer…That’s what Macy has to look forward to while her boyfriend, Jason, is away at Brain Camp. Days will be spent at a boring job in the library, evenings will be filled with vocabulary drills for the SATs, and spare time will be passed with her mother, the two of them sharing a silent grief at the traumatic loss of Macy’s father. But sometimes, unexpected things can happen—things such as the catering job at Wish, with its fun-loving, chaotic crew. Or her sister’s project of renovating the neglected beach house, awakening long-buried memories. Things such as meeting Wes, a boy with a past, a taste for Truth-telling, and an amazing artistic talent, the kind of boy who could turn any girl’s world upside down. As Macy ventures out of her shell, she begins to question her sheltered life.

Feelings: This is one of two Dessen books that I’d read previously. And I loved it the first time around. I couldn’t remember why I loved it, I just knew that I did. After reading it a second time, I can safely say that I still love it. I’ve heard a few people say that this one isn’t their favorite of Dessen’s books, but it might be mine. I think that’s because I connected with Macy on so many levels. I understood her – her fears, where she was coming from, her motivations – and I wanted to heal alongside her.

Issues: I think the only thing this book was missing was a little more conversation about her belated gift from her dad. A little more closure there would have been nice.

Characters: As I said before, Macy is a character that I could really relate to. She’s experienced tragedy and been stuck in a limbo of healing ever since, unsure how to tip toe around her family members and wanting to please everyone. She’s stuck in a relationship that feels safe and steady, something she’s been desperate for. Then the beautiful Wish Catering crew come along and show Macy how to truly be alive. I want to run away and join a catering business after meeting this band of misfit toys.

I loved how this group ran on chaos. They didn’t need perfection and good luck made them antsy. They were the antithesis to Macy and her Jason-centered universe, which meant that she needed them desperately. I loved Wes’s calm, confident demeanor and the way he balanced Macy out, reassuring her of her worth and value. Every girl wants a Wes. [This girl included.]

Macy’s relationship with her mom and her sister was something that kept me a little bit on edge. I wasn’t sure how things would develop or whether things would have to get worse before they got better. In the end, I was ok with how things turned out. I wouldn’t say it was a beautiful, miraculous, tear-jerking come to Jesus meeting at the end, but sometimes that type of ending just isn’t real.

Final thoughts: I liked this one about the same amount that I liked Someone Like You. It just all felt very realistic to me. It was easy to read, easy to connect with, and easy to enjoy. This is a good summertime read!

Pick this up if you liked:

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

The Heir and the Spare by Emily Albright

Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories by Stephanie Perkins and others

Goodreads rating: 4.14/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.6/5

My rating: 4.75/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

Welcome to my second Sundays with Sarah! 

“He wasn’t what I’d thought he was; maybe he never had been. I wasn’t what I’d thought I was, either.”

9780142401774_SomeoneLikeY_CV.indd

Synopsis from GoodreadsScarlett was always the strong one. Halley was always content to follow in her wake. Then Scarlett’s boyfriend died, and Scarlett learned that she was pregnant. Now Halley has to find the strength to take the lead and help Scarlett get through it. Because true friendship is a promise you keep forever.

Feelings: Dessen’s books always have a clear beginning, middle, and end. (Except for That Summer…)  I got so swept up in the lives of these characters. I love books that have that effect on me. I was on board their emotional rollercoaster right alongside them. I loved that this was a book about friendship, more than anything else. Everything circled back to the relationship that Scarlett and Halley had.

This book is full of juxtapositions and role reversals. Halley’s mom plays the role of both mother and daughter, as her own mother becomes ill. Scarlett’s mother wears the daughter hat more than the mom one in their house. Halley’s boyfriend pressures her to take their relationship to the next level, while the new man in Scarlett’s life, Cameron, is just a steady, friendly presence. Halley gets injured in a car accident after Scarlett’s boyfriend dies in a motorcycle accident. These ideas circle around, with different characters and different outcomes.

Issues: The beginning felt a little disjointed to me. Michael’s dead and it all just felt kind of oh…huh. I get that he and Scarlett had only been secretly dating, but still…a teenager died, everyone! After I got past that, the whole story picked back up for me.

Characters: Scarlett and Halley are the best of best friends. They’ve given me friend-envy and I almost want to just start this book back over in order to spend more time with them. They’re both so strong willed and trusting, outspoken and compassionate. I liked that Dessen painted a very real picture of pregnancy and all the struggles and joys from start to finish. The writing wasn’t about right or wrong, it was about what translated as real people struggling through real situations.

The boys in this book were sucky. Poor Michael seemed nice, but his best friend Macon is a lame-o. (Yep…I said that…you didn’t think people still used that term. You’d be…well, ok…you’d be right.) Macon seemed great at first – kind, googly eyed, with his cute little candy. Then he turned into a high school boy and I wanted to smack him. By the end, the story wasn’t truly about him anymore so it didn’t matter whether he would learn from his mistake or grow up any. Baby Grace was what mattered at that point. I was totally okay with that.

Comparisons: At this point, I’ve read a total of 4 Sarah Dessen books and this one is definitely my favorite. I thought the writing was much stronger in this book and I connected with the characters more. Her books center around topical issues – identity, lack of control, parents, friends – but I thought this one handled its central conflict the best.

Final thoughts: This book has so many great messages for teen girls. Sure, one of the main characters gets pregnant at 16, but she does make some wise choices. Some very real discussions happen all throughout this books. Heck, this would be great for moms of teenagers to read, too. Let’s just all read this one.

Pick this up if you liked:

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Goodreads rating: 3.94/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.6/5

My rating: 4.75/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

Welcome to my newest blog post series: Sundays with Sarah! I decided it was high time I read through all of Sarah Dessen’s books and I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you. 

“Love is needing someone. Love is putting up with someone’s bad qualities because they somehow complete you.”

this lullaby

Synopsis from GoodreadsWhen it comes to relationships, Remy doesn’t mess around. After all, she’s learned all there is to know from her mother, who’s currently working on husband number five. But there’s something about Dexter that seems to defy all of Remy’s rules. He certainly doesn’t seem like Mr. Right. For some reason, however, Remy just can’t seem to shake him. Could it be that Remy’s starting to understand what those love songs are all about?

Feelings: I don’t love this book. I liked how Remy’s relationship with her mother deepens by the end of the book; they finally really understand each other. I liked how Dexter was a decent person – no jerks or two faced losers as the love interests, where the girl settles for someone who makes her feel pretty or whatever. I liked that the whole tone of the book changed by the final page. But I didn’t love it. Ok, I really liked it. I’m not gushing about it…but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I liked it. Okay…I have a broader vocabulary, I promise.

Issues: Remy’s negative, cynical attitude was hard to hurdle over. When I read a summer lovin’ type book like this, I want to be gripped from the get-go and I want to feel like I’m spending time with a friend. Remy was not that character for me. I didn’t understand her, I didn’t connect with her…but I liked the real Remy that was hiding under all those layers in the end. It just took a long time to find her and its worth it to stick this book out to the end so you can meet her.

Characters: In the beginning, we had negative complainy Remy, then her mom entered the scene and she kind of balanced things out, being so different from Remy. In the end, one thing I ended up liking about Remy is how she took her life into her own hands. She realized that Dexter couldn’t fix her and she wouldn’t be able to pour herself into fixing her mom’s problems, so she had no choice but to face her own reality and deal with it head on. And she did just that. She recognizes the differences in the people closest to her and instead of seeing them as things to fix or straighten up, she finds the value in their uniqueness. I also liked how protective she was of her friends and her family. She’s not about to be a wallflower, watching the world go by. She’s a powerful heroine and role model for teenage girls (and other readers of YA chick lit.) She has a past, yes, but she decides to leave those things behind her, where they belong. She learns from her mistakes and grows as a result.

I think Dexter is so great. He is so unabashedly himself – lanky and awkward and wonderful. I love his pursuit of Remy, despite the walls she’d put up to keep him out. He blends into different situations well, but in the end, he’s still just Dexter. He’s the sunshine to Remy’s cloudy skies, you know? He really balanced her out and made the book a lot easier to read in those denser moments.

Remy’s friends were a breath of fresh air. We didn’t get the friend group from clone-town, where they’re all the same and they all blend together in your mind. Each one stood out and had their own, individual take on the world. They fought and called each other out, but would also go to bat for each other (or throw Diet Zips at a jerk’s car for Remy.) They cussed and drank and smoked…different from other BFFs in contemporary chick-lit. I kind of liked that. I never knew what I was going to get from them.

Final thoughts: In the end, this book is entertaining and has that Dessen charm and quirkiness, but there’s some cynicism you have to trudge through. However, I think it’s worth seeing through to the end.

Pick this up if you liked:

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (my favorite of her books that I’ve read)

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Goodreads rating: 4.04/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.4/5

My rating: 4.25/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn