A New York Times bestseller
A TIME Magazine Top 10 Children's Book of 2015
"Saint Anything is a poignant, honest story about how we might suffer the misfortune of someone else's bad choices, how people who love us can become family when we desperately need it, and how starting over might - miraculously - mean taking a solid leap forward." —Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling novelist of Leaving Time and My Sister’s Keeper
Sydney has always felt invisible. She's grown accustomed to her brother, Peyton, being the focus of the family’s attention and, lately, concern. Peyton is handsome and charismatic, but seems bent on self-destruction. Now, after a drunk-driving accident that crippled a boy, Peyton’s serving some serious jail time, and Sydney is on her own, questioning her place in the family and the world.
Then she meets the Chatham family. Drawn into their warm, chaotic circle, Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance for the first time. There’s effervescent Layla, who constantly falls for the wrong guy, Rosie, who’s had her own fall from grace, and Mrs. Chatham, who even though ailing is the heart of the family. But it’s with older brother Mac—quiet, watchful, and protective—that Sydney finally feels seen, really seen, at last.
Saint Anything is Sarah Dessen’s deepest and most psychologically probing novel yet, telling an engrossing story of a girl discovering friendship, love, and herself.
About the Author
Sarah Dessen is the author of thirteen novels, which include the New York Times bestsellers The Moon and More, What Happened to Goodbye, Along for the Ride, Lock and Key, Just Listen, The Truth About Forever, and This Lullaby. Her first two books, That Summer and Someone Like You, were made into the movie How to Deal.
Dessen’s books are frequently chosen for the Teens’ Top Ten list and the list of Best Fiction for Young Adults. They have been translated into twenty-five languages. Sarah Dessen is the recipient of the 2017 Margaret A. Edwards Award from the Young Adult division of the American Library Association.
Sarah Dessen graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with highest honors in creative writing. She lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, Jay, and their daughter, Sasha Clementine.
Visit Sarah at sarahdessen.com.
Hometown:Chapel Hill, NC
Date of Birth:June 6, 1970
Place of Birth:Evanston, Illinois
Education:University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, degree in English.
Read an Excerpt
“WOULD THE defendant please rise.”
This wasn’t an actual question, even though it sounded like one. I’d noticed that the first time we’d all been assembled here, in this way. Instead, it was a command, an order. The “please” was just for show.
My brother stood up. Beside me, my mom tensed, sucking in a breath. Like the way they tell you to inhale before an X-ray so they can see more, get it all. My father stared straight forward, as always, his face impossible to read.
The judge was talking again, but I couldn’t seem to listen. Instead, I looked over to the tall windows, the trees blowing back and forth outside. It was early August; school started in three weeks. It felt like I had spent the entire summer in this very room, maybe in this same seat, but I knew that wasn’t the case. Time just seemed to stop here. But maybe, for people like Peyton, that was exactly the point.
It was only when my mother gasped, bending forward to grab the bench in front of us, that I realized the sentence had been announced. I looked up at my brother. He’d been known for his fearlessness all the way back to when we were kids playing in the woods behind our house. But the day those older boys had challenged him to walk across that wide, gaping sinkhole on a skinny branch and he did it, his ears had been bright red. He was scared. Then and now.
There was a bang of the gavel, and we were dismissed. The attorneys turned to my brother, one leaning in close to speak while the other put a hand on his back. People were getting up, filing out, and I could feel their eyes on us as I swallowed hard and focused on my hands in my lap. Beside me, my mother was sobbing.
“Sydney?” Ames said. “You okay?”
I couldn’t answer, so I just nodded.
“Let’s go,” my father said, getting to his feet. He took my mom’s arm, then gestured for me to walk ahead of them, up to where the lawyers and Peyton were.
“I have to go to the ladies’ room,” I said.
My mom, her eyes red, just looked at me. As if this, after all that had happened, was the thing that she simply could not bear.
“It’s okay,” Ames said. “I’ll take her.”
My father nodded, clapping him on the shoulder as we passed. Out in the courthouse lobby, I could see people pushing the doors open, out into the light outside, and I wished more than anything that I was among them.
Ames put his arm around me as we walked. “I’ll wait for you here,” he said when we reached the ladies’ room. “Okay?”
Inside, the light was bright, unforgiving, as I walked to the sinks and looked at myself in the mirror there. My face was pale, my eyes dark, flat, and empty.
A stall door behind me opened and a girl came out. She was about my height, but smaller, slighter. As she stepped up beside me, I saw she had blonde hair, plaited in a messy braid that hung over one shoulder, a few wisps framing her face, and she wore a summer dress, cowboy boots, and a denim jacket. I felt her look at me as I washed my hands once, then twice, before grabbing a towel and turning to the door.
I pushed it open, and there was Ames, directly across the hallway, leaning against the wall with his arms folded over his chest. When he saw me, he stood up taller, taking a step forward. I hesitated, stopping, and the girl, also leaving, bumped into my back.
“Oh! Sorry!” she said.
“No,” I told her, turning around. “It was . . . my fault.”
She looked at me for a second, then past my shoulder, at Ames. I watched her green eyes take him in, this stranger, for a long moment before turning her attention back to me. I had never seen her before. But with a single look at her face, I knew exactly what she was thinking.
I was used to being invisible. People rarely saw me, and if they did, they never looked close. I wasn’t shiny and charming like my brother, stunning and graceful like my mother, or smart and dynamic like my friends. That’s the thing, though. You always think you want to be noticed. Until you are.
The girl was still watching me, waiting for an answer to the question she hadn’t even said aloud. And maybe I would have answered it. But then I felt a hand on my elbow. Ames.
“Sydney? You ready?”
I didn’t reply to this, either. Somehow we were heading toward the lobby, where my parents were now standing with the lawyers. As we walked, I kept glancing behind me, trying to see that girl, but could not in the shifting crowd of people pressing into the courtroom. Once we were clear of them, though, I looked back one last time and was surprised to find her right where I’d left her. Her eyes were still on me, like she’d never lost sight of me at all.
THE FIRST thing you saw when you walked into our house was a portrait of my brother. It hung directly across from the huge glass door, right above a wood credenza and the Chinese vase where my father stored his umbrellas. You’d be forgiven if you never noticed either of these things, though. Once you saw Peyton, you couldn’t take your eyes off him.
Though we shared the same looks (dark hair, olive skin, brown, almost black, eyes) he somehow carried them totally differently. I was average, kind of cute. But Peyton—the second in our house, with my father Peyton the first—was gorgeous. I’d heard him compared to everything from movie idols of long before my time to fictional characters tromping across Scottish moors. I was pretty sure my brother was unaware as a child of the attention he received in supermarkets or post office lines. I wondered how it had felt when he’d suddenly understood the effect his looks had on people, women especially. Like discovering a superpower, both thrilling and daunting, all at once.
Before all that, though, he was just my brother. Three years older, blue King Combat sheets on his bed in contrast to my pink Fairy Foo ones. I basically worshipped him. How could I not? He was the king of Truth or Dare (he always went with the latter, naturally), the fastest runner in the neighborhood, and the only person I’d ever seen who could stand, balanced, on the handlebars of a rolling bicycle.
But his greatest talent, to me, was disappearing.
We played a lot of hide-and-seek as kids, and Peyton took it seriously. Ducking behind the first chair spotted in a room, or choosing the obvious broom closet? Those were for amateurs. My brother would fold himself beneath the cabinet under the bathroom sink, flatten completely under a bedspread, climb up the shower stall to spread across the ceiling, somehow holding himself there. Whenever I asked him for his secrets, he’d just smile. “You just have to find the invisible place,” he told me. Only he could see it, though.
We practiced wrestling moves in front of cartoons on weekend mornings, fought over whom the dog loved more (just guess), and spent the hours after school we weren’t in activities (soccer for him, gymnastics for me) exploring the undeveloped green space behind our neighborhood. This is how my brother still appears to me whenever I think of him: walking ahead of me on a crisp day, a stick in his hand, through the dappled fall colors of the woods. Even when I was nervous we’d get lost, Peyton never was. That fearlessness again. A flat landscape never appealed to him. He always needed something to push up against. When things got bad with Peyton, I always wished we were back there, still walking. Like we hadn’t reached where we were going yet, and there was still a chance it might be somewhere else.
I was in sixth grade when things began to change. Until then, we had both been on the lower campus of Perkins Day, the private school we’d attended since kindergarten. That year, though, he moved to Upper School. Within a couple of weeks, he’d started hanging out with a bunch of juniors and seniors. They treated him like a mascot, daring him to do stupid stuff like lifting Popsicles from the cafeteria line or climbing into a car trunk to sneak off campus for lunch. This was when Peyton’s legend began in earnest. He was bigger than life, bigger than our lives.
Meanwhile, when I didn’t have gymnastics, I was now riding the bus home solo, then eating my snack alone at the kitchen island. I had my own friends, of course, but most of them were highly scheduled, never around on weekday afternoons due to various activities. This was typical of our neighborhood, the Arbors, where the average household could support any extracurricular activity from Mandarin lessons to Irish dancing and everything in between. Financially, my family was about average for the area. My father, who started his career in the military before going to law school, had made his money in corporate conflict resolution. He was the guy called when a company had a problem—threat of a lawsuit, serious issues between employees, questionable practices about to be brought to light—and needed it worked out. It was no wonder I grew up believing there was no problem my father couldn’t solve. For much of my life, I’d never seen any proof otherwise.
If Dad was the general, my mom was the chief operating officer. Unlike some parents, who approached parenting as a tag-team sport, in our family the duties were very clearly divided. My father handled the bills, house, and yard upkeep, and my mom dealt with everything else. Julie Stanford was That Mother, the one who read every parenting book and stocked her minivan with enough snacks and sports equipment for every kid in the neighborhood. Like my dad, if my mom did something, she did it right. Which was why it was all the more surprising when, eventually, things went wrong anyway.
The trouble with Peyton started in the winter of his tenth grade year. One afternoon I was watching TV in the living room with a bowl of popcorn when the doorbell rang. When I looked outside, I saw a police car in the driveway.
“Mom?” I called upstairs. She was in her office, which was basically command central for our entire house. My dad called it the War Room. “Someone’s here.”
I don’t know why I didn’t tell her it was the police. It just seemed saying it might make it real, and I wasn’t sure what was out there yet.
“Sydney, you are perfectly capable of answering the door,” she replied, but sure enough, a beat later I heard her coming down the stairs.
I kept my eyes on the TV, where the characters from my favorite reality show, Big New York, were in the midst of yet another dinner party catfight. The Big franchise had been part of my afternoon ritual since Peyton had started high school, the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. Rich women being petty and pretty, I’d heard it described, and that summed it up. There were about six different shows—Dallas, Los Angeles, and Chicago among them—enough so that I could easily watch two every day to fill the time between when I got home and dinner. I was so involved in the show, it was like they were my friends, and I often found myself talking back to the TV as if they could hear me, or thinking about their issues and problems even when I wasn’t watching. It was a weird kind of loneliness, feeling that some of my closest friends didn’t actually know I existed. But without them, the house felt so empty, even with my mom there, which made me feel empty in a way I’d grown to dread the moment I stepped off the bus after school. My own life felt flat and sad too much of the time; it was reassuring, somehow, to lose myself in someone else’s.
So I was watching Rosalie, the former actress, accuse Ayre, the model, of being a bully, when everything in our family’s life shifted. One minute the door was shut and things were fine. The next, it was open and there was Peyton, a police officer beside him.
“Ma’am,” the cop said as my mother stepped back, putting a hand to her chest. “Is this your son?”
This was what I would remember later. This one question, the answer a no-brainer, and yet still one my parents, and Mom especially, would grapple with from that point on. Starting that day, when Peyton got caught smoking pot in the Perkins Day parking lot with his friends, my brother began a transformation into someone we didn’t always recognize. There would be other visits from the authorities, trips to the police station, and, eventually, court dates and rehab stays. But it was this first one that stayed in my mind, crisp in detail. The bowl of popcorn, warm in my lap. Rosalie’s sharp voice. And my mom, stepping back to let my brother inside. As the cop led him down the hallway to the kitchen, my brother looked at me. His ears were bright red.
Because he hadn’t had any pot on his person, Perkins Day decided to handle the infraction itself, with a suspension and volunteer hours doing tutoring at the Lower School. The story—especially the part about how Peyton was the only one who ran, forcing the cops to chase him down—made the rounds, with how far he’d gotten (a block, five, a mile) growing with each telling. My mom cried. My dad, furious, grounded him for a full month. Things didn’t go back to the way they had been, though. Peyton came home and went to his room, staying there until dinner. He served his time, swore he’d learned his lesson. Three months later, he got busted for breaking and entering.
There’s a weird thing that happens when something goes from a one-time thing to a habit. Like the problem is no longer just a temporary houseguest but has actually moved in.
After that, we fell into a routine. My brother accepted his punishment and my parents slowly relaxed, accepting as fact their various theories about why this would never happen again. Then Peyton would get busted—for drugs, shoplifting, reckless driving—and we’d all go back down the rabbit hole of charges, lawyers, court, and sentences.
After his first shoplifting arrest, when the cops found pot during his pat-down, Peyton went to rehab. He returned with a thirty-day chip on his key chain and interest in playing guitar thanks to his roommate at Evergreen Care Center. My parents paid for lessons and made plans to outfit part of the basement as a small studio so he could record his original compositions. The work was halfway done when the school found a small amount of pills in his locker.
He got suspended for three weeks, during which time he was supposed to be staying home, getting tutored and preparing for his court date. Two days before he was due to go back to school, I was awakened out of a deep sleep by the rumbling of the garage door opening. I looked out the window to see my dad’s car backing onto our street. My clock said three fifteen a.m.
I got up and went out into the hallway, which was dark and quiet, then padded down the stairs. A light was on in the kitchen. There I found my mother, in her pajamas and a U sweatshirt, making a pot of coffee. When she saw me, she just shook her head.
“Go back to sleep,” she told me. “I’ll fill you in tomorrow.”
By the next morning, my brother had been bailed out, charged yet again with breaking and entering, this time with added counts of trespassing and resisting arrest. The previous evening, after my parents had gone to bed, he’d snuck out of his room, walked up our road, then climbed the fence around the Villa, the biggest house in the Arbors. He found an unlocked window and wriggled through, then poked around for only a few minutes before the cops arrived, alerted by the silent alarm. When they came in, he bolted out the back door. They tackled him on the pool deck, leaving huge, bloody scrapes across his face. Amazingly, my mother seemed more upset about this than anything else.
“It just seems like we might have a case,” she said to my dad later that morning. She was dressed now, all business: they had a meeting with Peyton’s lawyer at nine a.m. sharp. “I mean, did you see those wounds? What about police brutality?”
“Julie, he was running from them,” my dad replied in a tired voice.
“Yes, I understand that. But I also understand that he is still a minor, and force was not necessary. There was a fence. It’s not like he was going anywhere.”
But he was, I thought, although I knew better than to say this aloud. The more Peyton got into trouble, the more my mom seemed desperate to blame anyone and everyone else. The school was out to get him. The cops were too rough. But my brother was no innocent: all you had to do was look at the facts. Although sometimes, I felt like I was the only one who could see them.
By the next day at school, word had spread, and I was getting side-eyed all over the hallways. It was decided that Peyton would withdraw from Perkins Day and finish high school elsewhere, although opinions differed on whether it was the school or my parents who made this choice.
I was lucky to have my friends, who rallied around me, letting people know that I was not my brother, despite our shared looks and last name. Jenn, whom I’d known since our days at Trinity Church Preschool, was especially protective. Her dad had had his own tangles with the law, back in college.
“He was always honest about it, that it was just experimentation,” she told me as we sat in the cafeteria at lunch. “He paid his debt to society, and now look, he’s a CEO, totally successful. Peyton will be, too. This, too, shall pass.”
Jenn always sounded like this, older than she was, mostly because her parents had had her in their forties and treated her like a little adult. She even looked like a grown-up, with her sensible haircut, glasses, and comfortable footwear. At times it was strange, like she’d skipped childhood altogether, even when she was in it. But now, I was reassured. I wanted to believe her. To believe anything.
Peyton received three months in jail and a fine. That was the first time we were all in court together. His lawyer, Sawyer Ambrose, whose ads were on bus stops all over town (NEED A LAWYER? CALL ON SAWYER!), maintained that it was crucial for the jury to see us sitting behind my brother like the loyal, tight family we were.
Also present was my brother’s new best friend, a guy he’d met in the Narcotics Anonymous group he was required to attend. Ames was a year older than Peyton, tall with shaggy hair and a loping walk, and had gotten busted for dealing pot a year earlier. He’d served six months and stayed out of trouble ever since, setting the kind of example everyone agreed my brother needed. They drank a lot of coffee drinks together, played video games, and studied, Peyton with his books from the alternative school where he’d landed, Ames for the classes he was taking in hospitality management at Lakeview Tech. They planned that Peyton would do the same once he got his diploma, and together they’d go work at one resort or another. My mom loved this idea, and already had all the paperwork necessary to make it happen: it sat in its own labeled envelope on her desk. There was just the little matter of the jail thing to get out of the way first.
My brother ended up serving seven weeks at the county lockup. I was not permitted to see him, but my mother visited every time it was allowed. Meanwhile, Ames remained; it seemed like he was always parked at our kitchen table with a coffee drink, ducking out occasionally to the garage to smoke cigarettes, using a sand-bucket ashtray my mom (who abhorred the habit) put out there just for him. Sometimes he showed up with his girlfriend, Marla, a manicurist with blonde hair, big blue eyes, and a shyness so prevalent she rarely spoke. If you addressed her, she got super nervous, like a small dog too tightly wound and always shaking.
I knew Ames was a comfort to my mom. But something about him made me uneasy. Like how I’d catch him watching me over the rim of his coffee cup, following my movements with his dark eyes. Or how he always found a way to touch me—squeezing my shoulder, brushing against my arm—when he said hello. It wasn’t like he’d ever done anything to me, so I felt like it had to be my problem. Plus, he had a girlfriend. All he wanted, he told me again and again, was to take care of me the way Peyton would.
“It was the one thing he asked me the day he went in,” he told me soon after my brother was gone. We were in the kitchen, and my mom had stepped out to take a phone call, leaving us alone. “He said, ‘Look out for Sydney, man. I’m counting on you.’”
I wasn’t sure what to say to this. First of all, it didn’t sound like Peyton, who’d barely given me the time of day in the months before he’d gone away. Plus, even before that, he’d never been the protective type. But Ames knew my brother well, and the truth was that I no longer did. So I had to take his word for it.
“Well,” I said, feeling like I should offer something, “um, thanks.”
“No problem.” He gave me another one of those long looks. “It’s the least I can do.”
When Peyton was released, he was still quiet, but more engaged, helping out more around the house and being present in a way he hadn’t been in the previous months. Sometimes, after he got home from school, he’d even watch TV with me. He could only stand Big New York or Miami for short periods, though, before getting disgusted with every single character.
“That’s Ayre,” I’d try to explain as the gaunt, heavily nipped-and-tucked one-time Playmate had yet another meltdown. “She and Rosalie, the actress? They’re, like, always at each other.”
Peyton said nothing, only rolling his eyes. He had little patience for anything, I was noticing.
“You pick something,” I’d say, pushing the remote at him. “Seriously, I don’t care what we watch.”
But it never worked. It was like he could alight next to me for just so long before having to move on to checking e-mail, strumming his guitar, or getting something to eat. His fidgeting kept increasing, and it made me nervous. I saw my mom notice it as well. Like some kind of internal energy had lost its outlet and was just building up, day after day, until he found a new one.
He got his diploma in June, in a small ceremony with only eight classmates, most of whom had also been kicked out of their previous schools. We all attended, Ames and Marla included, and went out to dinner afterward at Luna Blu, one of our favorite restaurants. There, over their famous fried pickle appetizer, we toasted my brother with our soft drinks before my parents presented him with his graduation gift: two round-trip tickets to Jacksonville, Florida, so he and Ames could check out a well-known hospitality course there. My mom had even made them an appointment with the school’s director, as well as set up a private tour. Of course.
“This is great,” my brother said, looking down at the tickets. “Seriously. Thanks, Mom and Dad.”
My mother smiled, tears pricking her eyes, as my dad reached over, clapping Peyton on the shoulder. We were sitting outside on the patio, tiny fairy lights strung up overhead, and we’d just had a great meal together. The moment seemed so far away from the year we’d had, like everything in the fall and before it was just a bad dream. The next day, my mom sat down with me to talk about my hopes for college. Finally, I was the project. It was my turn.
That fall, I started tenth grade at Perkins Day. My own transition to Upper School the year before had been as unremarkable as my brother’s had been eventful. Jenn and I made friends with a new girl, Meredith, who’d moved to Lakeview to train at the U’s gymnastics facility. She was small and all muscle, with the best posture I’d ever seen, not to mention the perkiest ponytail. She’d been training for competition since she was six. I’d never met anyone so driven and disciplined, and she basically spent every hour she wasn’t at school in the gym. Together, we three formed an easy friendship, as we all felt a little older than our classmates: Jenn because of her upbringing, Meredith because of her sport, and me because of everything that had happened in the last year. My brother’s legend, for better or worse, still preceded me. But my choice of friends—and the fact that we avoided all parties and illegal extracurriculars even as our classmates experimented—made it clear we were very different.
With Peyton working as a valet at a local hotel and taking his hospitality classes with Ames at Lakeview Tech, my dad doing more traveling, and my mom returning to her volunteer projects, I often had the house entirely to myself after school. I started to feel that sadness again, creeping up each afternoon as the sun went down. I tried to fill it with Big New York or Miami, watching back-to-back-to-back episodes until my eyes were bleary. Even so, I always felt a rush of relief when I heard the garage door opening, signaling someone’s return and the shift to dinner and nighttime, when I wouldn’t be by myself anymore.
Then, the day after Valentine’s Day, my brother left his job at the regular time, a little after ten p.m. Instead of coming home, however, he went to visit an old friend from Perkins Day. There, he drank several beers, took a few shots, and ignored the repeated calls from my mother until his voice mail was full. At two a.m., he left his friend’s apartment, got into his car, and headed home. At the same time, a fifteen-year-old boy named David Ibarra got onto his bike to ride the short distance back to his house from his cousin’s, where he’d fallen asleep on the couch while playing video games. He was taking a right from Dombey Street onto Pike Avenue when my brother hit him head-on.
I was awakened that day by the sound of my mother screaming. It was a primal, awful sound, one I had never heard before. For the first time I understood what it really meant to feel your blood run cold. I ran out of my room and down the stairs, then stopped just outside the kitchen, suddenly realizing I wasn’t sure I was ready for what was happening in there. But then my mom was wailing, and I made myself go in.
She was on her knees, her head bowed, my father crouching in front of her, his hands gripping her shoulders. The sound she was making was so awful, worse than an animal in pain. My first thought was that my brother was dead.
“Julie,” my dad was saying. “Breathe, honey. Breathe.”
My mom shook her head. Her face was white. Seeing my strong, capable mother this way was one of the scariest things I’d ever endured. I just wanted it to stop. So I made myself speak.
My father turned, seeing me. “Sydney, go upstairs. I’ll be there in a minute.”
I went. I didn’t know what else to do. Then I sat on my bed and waited. Right then, it felt like time did stop, in that five minutes or fifteen, or however long it was.
Finally, my father appeared in the doorway. The first thing I noticed was how wrinkled his shirt was, twisted in places, like someone had been grabbing at it. Later, I’d remember this more than anything else. That plaid print, all disjointed.
“There’s been an accident,” he said. His voice sounded raw. “Your brother hurt someone.”
Later, I’d think back to these words and realize how telling they really were. Your brother hurt someone. It was like a metaphor, with a literal meaning and so many others. David Ibarra was the victim here. But he was not the only one hurt.
Peyton was at the police station, where they’d taken him after a Breathalyzer test had confirmed his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. But the DUI was the least of his problems. As he was still on probation, there would be no leniency this time and no bail, at least at first. My father called Sawyer Ambrose, then changed his shirt and left to meet him at the station. My mom went to her room and shut the door. I went to school, because I didn’t know what else to do.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Jenn asked me at my locker right after homeroom. “You seem weird.”
“I’m fine,” I told her, shoving a book in my bag. “Just tired.”
I didn’t know why I wasn’t telling her. It was like this was too big; I didn’t want to give it any air to breathe. Plus, people would know soon enough.
I started getting texts that evening, around dinnertime. First Jenn, then Meredith, then a few other friends. I turned my phone off, picturing the word spreading, like drops of food coloring slowly taking over a glass of water. My mother was still in her room, my dad gone, so I made myself some macaroni and cheese, which I ate at the kitchen counter, standing up. Then I went to my room, where I lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling, until I heard the familiar sound of the garage door opening. This time, though, it didn’t make me feel better.
A few minutes later, I heard a knock on my door, and then my dad came in. He looked so tired, with bags under his eyes, like he’d aged ten years since I’d seen him last.
“I’m worried about Mom,” I blurted out before he could say anything. I hadn’t even been planning to say this; it was like someone else spoke in my voice.
“I know. She’ll be okay. Did you eat?”
He looked at me for a minute, then crossed the room, sitting down on the edge of my bed. My dad was not the touchy-feely type, never had been. He was a shoulder-clapper, a master of the quick, three-back-pat hug. It was my mom who was always pulling me into her lap, brushing a hand over my hair, squeezing me tight. But now, on this weirdest and scariest of days, my father wrapped his arms around me. I hugged him back, holding on for dear life, and we stayed like that for what felt like a long time.
There was so much ahead of us, both awfully familiar and, even worse, brand-new. My brother would never be the same. I’d never have another day when I didn’t think of David Ibarra at least once. My mom would fight on, but she had lost something. I’d never again be able to look at her and not see it missing. So many nevers. But in that moment, I just held my dad and squeezed my eyes shut, trying to make time stop again. It didn’t.
I looked over at my mom, who was sitting at the kitchen table, a bagel she wouldn’t eat in front of her. It was sweet of her to make an effort.
“Not really,” I said, zipping my backpack shut. This wasn’t true: I’d already checked twice that I had my parking permit and class schedule, and yet I still kept having to make sure. But I didn’t want her to worry. About me, anyway.
“It’s a big change, a new school,” she said.
In the silence that followed, this sentence hovered between us, like an empty hook waiting for something to be hung on it. Ever since I’d decided in early June to leave Perkins Day and enroll at Jackson High School, my mom had been giving me opportunities to explain why. I thought I had. I’d been at Perkins Day my whole life. I needed something different, especially after the last year. And then, the reason I didn’t talk about: the money.
Peyton’s latest defense had not been cheap, and the bills from it, along with all the others from Sawyer Ambrose, were piling up. Though it wasn’t discussed outright, I knew things were tighter than they’d ever been. We’d let our housekeeper go and sold one of our cars, as well as a beach house we rarely used in Colby, our favorite coastal town. Nobody had said anything about my school expenses, but with college coming up in two years, I figured it was the least I could do. Plus, I was ready to be anonymous.
My mom and I had gone to Jackson to enroll me two days after my brother was sentenced. She was still like a walking ghost, drinking cup after cup of coffee each day and barely eating. My dad had resumed traveling, taking one out-of-town consulting gig after another, so that left just us at the house—at least when she wasn’t making the three-hour round-trip to Lincoln Correctional Facility twice a week and every other weekend. Still, she had rallied for our appointment with the school counselor, putting on makeup and arranging my transcripts in a folder labeled with my name. When we pulled into a visitor’s spot, she cut the engine, then peered up at the main building.
“It’s big,” she observed. Then she looked at me, as if I might change my mind, but I was already opening my door.
Inside, it smelled like cleaning fluid and gym mats, a weird thing, as the PE building was on the other side of the center courtyard. At Perkins Day’s Upper School—which had just done a huge remodel, funded by an alumnus who founded the social networking site Ume.com—everything was new or close to it. Jackson, in contrast, felt more like a patchwork quilt, the campus made up of old buildings with added newish wings, plus the occasional trailer here and there. The day we visited, no one was there but a few teachers and other staff, which made the halls seem even wider, the grounds that much bigger. In the guidance office, which reeked of cinnamon air freshener, there was no one at the main desk, so we took seats on a saggy couch.
My mom crossed her legs, then looked over at a metal bookshelf on her right, which held a box of mismatched clothing items marked LOST AND FOUND, a stack of pamphlets about eating disorders, and a box of tissues, which was empty. I could tell by her face that if she hadn’t already been depressed, this scenario would have done the trick.
“It’s okay, Mom,” I said. “This is what I want.”
“Oh, Sydney,” she replied, and then, just like that, she was crying. This was part of the new Julie as well. She’d always been an easy crier, but over things like weddings and sappy movies. Normal stuff. These sudden sobby waterworks were another thing entirely, and I never knew what to do when they happened. This time, I couldn’t even offer her a tissue.
Now, back in the kitchen, I checked my backpack again, then wondered if I should change. At Perkins Day we wore uniforms, so I wasn’t used to dressing for school. After trying multiple options, I’d gone with jeans and my favorite shirt, a white button-down with a pattern of tiny purple toadstools, as well as the silver hoop earrings I’d gotten for my sixteenth birthday. But I would have worn camouflage if I thought it would help me disappear into the crowd.
“You look great,” my mom said, as if reading my mind. “But you’d better go. Don’t want to be late the first day.”
I nodded, slid my backpack over one shoulder, then walked over to where she was sitting. The bagel had one bite out of it now. Progress.
“I love you,” I said, bending over and kissing her cheek.
She reached down, taking my hand and squeezing it, a little bit too tight. “I love you, too. Have a good day.”
I nodded, then went out into the garage and got into my car. As I backed down the driveway, I looked in the kitchen window to see her still sitting there. I thought she might be watching me as well, but she wasn’t. Instead, she was looking at the opposite wall, her mug now in her hands. She didn’t drink or put it down, just kept it there, right at her heart, and something about this made me so sad, I couldn’t wait to be gone.
* * *
School let out at three fifteen. Ten minutes after the bell, I was the only car left in the lower lot. For once, it felt good to be alone.
The school was just so big. The hallways that had seemed so wide three weeks earlier were, when I stepped inside that first day, totally packed with people: you couldn’t take a step without bumping someone, or at least their arm or elbow. I’d expected that, though. It was the noise that was the real surprise. There was the shrillness of the bells: long, earsplitting tones. The jackhammers of the construction crew replacing one of the many broken sidewalks. And, always, people yelling: in the hallways, across the courtyard, outside the classroom door, at a volume that startled you even with the door solidly shut. It defied logic that in a place so cramped, you’d worry you might not be heard. But everyone did. Apparently.
I’d had only one true interaction all day, with a very perky girl named Deb who was, in her words, a “self-appointed Jackson ambassador!” She’d appeared at my homeroom with a gift bag holding a school calendar, a Jackson football pencil, and some home-baked cookies, as well as her personal business card if I had any questions or concerns. When she left, everyone stared at me as if I were even more of a freak. Great.
Now that I was alone, though, I wondered what to do with myself. I couldn’t go home yet, as there were still a good two hours until dinner, the same stretch of time I’d dreaded even before my brother was sent away. Suddenly, I felt so helpless. If I hated the crowds but also my own company, where did that leave me? It was the saddest I’d felt in a long time. I started my car, like if I drove off I could leave the sadness there.
A block from school, I was at a light when I looked across the street and saw a little strip mall. There was a nail salon, a liquor store, a weight-loss company, and, in the corner, a pizza place.
After school meant pizza to me as much as or even more so than my popcorn-and-Big routine. Just one block from Perkins, there was also a small shopping center, and the Italian place there, Antonella’s, served as the de facto clubhouse for the entire school. They had gourmet brick-fired pizzas, a coffee bar, gelato, and the sweetest fountain Cokes I’d ever tasted. Meredith always went straight to the U for practice, but Jenn and I hit Antonella’s at least once a week, splitting a ham, pineapple, and broccoli pizza and ostensibly doing our homework. Mostly, though, we gossiped and spied on the more popular kids, who always sat at the long, family-style tables by the window, flirting and blowing straw wrappers at one another.
Everything today had been new. With pizza, I could finally have something familiar. Before I could overthink it, I put on my blinker, switched lanes, and turned into the parking lot.
I knew the minute I stepped in that this place was very different. Seaside Pizza was small and narrow, lit not with modern light fixtures like Antonella’s but with yellow fluorescents, some of which didn’t work. The seating consisted of worn leather booths and a few tables, and the walls were covered in a dark paneling and lined with black-and-white photographs of beaches and boardwalks. There was a tall glass counter, behind which sat a row of different kinds of pizzas and a wide, beat-up oven with the word HOT painted in faded letters across its front. A TV playing a sports talk show hung from the ceiling above the drink machine, next to which was a tall, tilting pile of plastic menus. Overhead, music was playing. I could have sworn I heard what sounded like a banjo.
Once inside, I let the door shut behind me but kept my hand on the glass as I realized that this, too, was probably a mistake. Clearly, this was not a popular place with Jackson students, or anyone, for that matter: I was the only one there.
I turned around to leave, only to find that there was now a guy on the other side of the door. He was tall with shoulder-length brown hair, wearing a white T-shirt, jeans, and a backpack. He waited for me to take a step away from the door, then another, before slowly pushing it open between us and coming in.
I felt like I couldn’t dart out without seeming like a freak, so I turned back to the counter, taking down a menu from the pile. I figured I’d pretend to study it for a second, then slip away while he was ordering. When I glanced up a beat later, though, I saw he was behind the counter, tying on an apron. Crap. He worked there. And now he was looking at me.
“Can I help you?” he asked. His T-shirt, I saw now, said ANGER MANAGEMENT: THE SHOW. WCOM RADIO.
“Um,” I said, looking back down at the menu. It was sticky in my hands, and I made out none of the words even as I read it. Panicked, I glanced at the row of pizza slices under the glass counter. “Slice of pepperoni. And a drink.”
“You got it,” he replied, grabbing a metal pizza pan from behind him. He moved the slices around with some tongs for a second before drawing out one that was huge and plunking it on the pan, which he slid into the oven. Back at the register, he shook a lock of hair out of his eyes and hit a few buttons. “Three forty-two.”
I fumbled for my wallet, sliding him a five. As he made change, I noticed there was a cup next to the register filled with YumYum lollipops. TAKE ONE! said a sign in pink marker behind it. I’d loved them as a kid, hadn’t had one in years. I started picking through them, past the plentiful green apple, watermelon, and cherry ones, looking for my favorite.
“Dollar fifty-eight’s your change,” the guy said, holding it out in his hand. As I took it, as well as the empty cup he’d set on the counter, he said, “If you’re looking for cotton candy or bubble gum, I’ll save you the time. There aren’t any.”
I raised my eyebrows. “They’re popular?”
“To put it mildly.”
Just then, the door banged open behind me and someone rushed past, their footsteps slapping the floor. I turned just in time to see a blonde girl disappearing into a back room marked PRIVATE before the door shut behind her.
The guy narrowed his eyes at the door, then looked back at me. “Your slice will be up in a minute. We’ll bring it out.”
I nodded, then walked over to fill my cup and grab some napkins. I sat down at a table, then studied my phone just for something to do. A few minutes later, I heard the oven opening and closing, and he came out a set of swinging doors with my pizza, now on a paper plate, and slid it in front of me.
“Sure thing,” he replied, and then I listened to him walk to the PRIVATE door and knock on it.
“Go away,” a girl’s voice said. A minute later, though, I heard it open.
Alone again, I took a bite of my pizza, even though I wasn’t really hungry. Then I took another. At about that point, I had to resist stuffing the entire thing into my mouth. I mean, pepperoni pizza is pepperoni pizza. It’s, like, the most generic of slices. But this one was so good. The crust was both spongy and crispy—somehow—and the sauce had this certain bit of tanginess, not sweet but almost savory. And the cheese: there weren’t even words. Oh, my God.
I was so involved in devouring my slice that at first I didn’t even notice someone else had come from behind the counter. Then I heard a voice.
I looked up to see a man about my dad’s age, maybe a bit younger. He had dark hair, streaked with a bit of white, and was wearing an apron.
“It’s great,” I said. My mouth was half full. I swallowed, then added, “Probably the best I’ve ever had.”
He smiled at this, clearly pleased, then reached over the register, picking up the cup of YumYums. “Did you get a lollipop? It’s the perfect chaser. But don’t waste your time looking for cotton candy or bubble gum. We ain’t got ’em.”
“I did hear they were popular.”
At this, he made a face, shaking his head, just as I heard the back door open. A moment later, the younger guy walked back past me, the blonde girl behind him. She was holding a lollipop. A pink one.
“You leave the counter unattended now?” the man asked, picking up the tongs and moving some slices around. “Nobody told me we’re working on the honor system.”
“Don’t yell at him,” the girl said. She was wearing a sundress and flip-flops, a bunch of silver bangles on one arm. “He was checking on me.”
The older man opened the oven, looked inside, then banged it shut again. “You need checking?”
“Today I did.” She pulled out a chair at a table opposite the register, sitting down. “Daniel just dumped me.”
He stopped moving, turning to look at her. “What? Are you serious?”
The girl nodded slowly. She’d put the lollipop back in her mouth. After a moment, she reached over to the nearby napkin dispenser, took one out, and dabbed her eyes.
“Never liked that kid,” the man said, turning back to the oven.
“Yes, you did,” the younger guy said, his voice low.
“I didn’t. He was too pretty. All that hair. You can’t trust a guy with hair like that.”
“Dad, it’s okay,” the girl said, still dabbing. She pulled the lollipop from her mouth. “It’s his senior year, he didn’t want to be tied down, blah blah blah.”
“Blah my ass,” her father said. Then he glanced at me. “Sorry.”
Caught watching, I felt my face flush and went back to my pizza, or what was left of it.
“What sucks, though,” the girl continued, pulling out another napkin, “is that those are the same reasons that Jake gave for dumping me when the summer started. ‘It’s summer! I don’t want to be tied down!’ I mean, honestly. I can’t deal with this seasonal abandonment. It’s just too harsh.”
“That hair,” the man muttered. “I always hated that hair.”
The front door opened then, and a couple of guys came in, both of them carrying skateboards. During the ensuing transaction, I finished my slice and tried not to look at the blonde girl, who had pulled one leg up under her and now sat with her chin propped in her hand, eating her lollipop and staring out the window.
The skaters found a table, and soon enough the younger guy came out and delivered their food to them. On his way back behind the counter, he flicked the girl’s shoulder, then said something I couldn’t make out. She looked up at him, nodding, and he moved on.
I glanced at my watch. If I left now, I’d still have at least an hour before dinner. Just thinking this, I felt like I was suddenly wearing something heavy. It wasn’t like Seaside Pizza was so ideal, either. But it wasn’t those same four walls, resonating with their emptiness. I got up and refilled my drink.
“You should take a lollipop,” the girl told me, her eyes still on the window, as I started back to my table. “They’re complimentary.”
Clearly, resistance was futile: this was expected. So I went back to the cup and started to poke around. I was actually waiting for the girl to warn me about the shortage of pink flavors, but she didn’t. But after I’d been at it for a moment, she did speak up.
“What flavor you looking for?”
I glanced over at her. Behind the counter, her father was spreading sauce across a circle of dough, while the guy my age counted bills at the register. “Root beer,” I told her.
She just looked at me. “Seriously?”
Clearly, she was shocked. Which surprised me enough that I couldn’t even formulate a response. But then she was talking again.
“Nobody,” she said, “likes root beer YumYums. They are always the ones left when everything else, even the really lousy flavors, like mystery and blue raspberry, are gone.”
“What’s wrong with blue raspberry?” the man asked.
“It’s blue,” she told him flatly, then turned her attention back to me. “Are you being totally honest right now? They really are your top pick?”
Everyone was looking at me now. I swallowed. “Well . . . yeah.”
In response, she pushed her chair out, getting to her feet. Then, before I even knew what was happening, she was walking toward me. I thought maybe I was about to get into a confrontation about candy preferences, which would have been a first, but then she passed by. I turned to see her head to the same back door, then open it and go inside.
I looked at the man behind the counter, but he just shrugged, sprinkling cheese over the sauce on his pizza in progress. Noises were coming from the back room now—drawers opening and closing, cabinets slamming—but I couldn’t see anything. Then it got quiet, and she emerged, a plastic bag in her hand. She walked right up to me, until we were only inches apart, and held it out.
“Here,” she said. “For you.”
I took it. Inside were at least fifty root beer YumYum lollipops, maybe even more. I just stared at them for a minute, speechless, before I looked up at her.
“I might hate them, but they’re still candy,” she explained. “I couldn’t just throw them away.”
I looked down at the bag again: it was actually heavy in my hands. “Thank you,” I said.
“You’re welcome.” She smiled, then stuck out her hand. “I’m Layla.”
We shook. Then there was a pause. When I looked up at her again, she raised her eyebrows.
“Oh,” I said quickly, pulling one out and unwrapping it. I stuck it in my mouth, and just like that, I was ten again, walking back from the Quik-Zip with Peyton after spending my allowance on candy. He always got chocolate: with peanuts, with almonds, with caramel. But I liked sugar straight, and time to savor it. In every bag of YumYums there were at least two root beers: I always ate one right away, then kept the other for after the rest were gone. I thought of my brother up at Lincoln and wondered if they ever got chocolate there. It occurred to me I should tell my mom to bring him some.
Just then, a phone rang behind the counter. The younger guy answered it.
“Seaside Pizza, this is Mac.” He grabbed a pad, then pulled a pencil out from behind his ear. “Uh-huh. Yep. That’s a buck extra. Sure. What’s the address?”
As he wrote, the older man looked over his shoulder, read the order, then grabbed a ball of dough and began flipping it in his hands. “Delivery’s close enough for you to get dropped at the house,” he said to Layla. “Call your mom and see if she needs anything.”
“Okay,” she said over her shoulder. Then she looked back at me. “You go to Jackson?”
I nodded. “Just started today.”
She made a face. “Ugh. How was it?”
“Not so great,” I replied, then nodded at the bag. “But this helps.”
“It always does,” she said. Then she waved, turned on her heel, and began walking toward that back door again. I returned to my table with all my YumYums and gathered up my trash and backpack.
“Tell her to meet me outside,” the younger guy was telling the older one as I headed for the door. “Starter’s been stubborn lately. Might have to mess with it.”
“Don’t forget the sign this time!”
We ended up leaving together, just as we’d come in. As I crossed the lot to my car, he jogged up to an older model truck. I watched as he reached into the bed, pulling out a magnetic sign and slapping it on the driver’s side door. SEASIDE PIZZA, it said, BEST AROUND. A phone number was printed below.
It was late enough now that I could leave and get home right around dinnertime. But I stayed until Layla emerged, carrying one of those square pizza warmers. A couple of cars were between us at the first stoplight, but I remained behind them turn for turn for a few blocks until eventually the traffic split us. Only then did I open another lollipop, which I savored all the way home.
OVER THE next two days, things didn’t really improve at school. But they didn’t get worse, either. I figured out the fastest way to my classes, discovered it was actually easier to find a spot in the upper parking lot, and had two conversations with classmates (although one was mandatory, as we were thrown into a group project together; still, it was something).
I didn’t go back to Seaside Pizza again, as I was too worried I’d look like a freak, a stalker, or both. Instead, the next day, I met Jenn at Frazier Bakery to catch up and do homework. The following day, I went home after school, thinking it might not be so bad. Then I saw Ames’s car in the driveway.
“Sydney? Is that you?”
I put my bag on the stairs, then took a breath before walking into the kitchen. Sure enough, there he was with my mom at the table, drinking coffee. A plate of cookies sat between them. When my mom saw me, she pushed them in my direction.
“Hello, stranger,” said Ames as I walked to the fridge, taking out a bottled water. “Long time, no see.”
Although he was smiling as he said this, it still kind of gave me the creeps. But my mom was already pulling out a chair, assuming I would join them, so I did.
“How was school?” she asked. Turning to him, she added, “She just started at Jackson this week.”
“Really?” He grinned. “My old stomping grounds. Does it still smell like Lysol everywhere?”
“You went to Jackson?” my mom asked. “I didn’t know that!”
“Sophomore and junior year.” Ames sat back, stretching his legs. “Then I was asked to leave. Politely.”
“Sounds like someone else I know,” my mom said, taking a sip from her mug.
“You liking it?” Ames asked me.
I nodded. “Yeah. It’s fine.”
This had been my default answer whenever I was asked any variation of this question. Only once had I told the truth, and that was to Layla, a total stranger. I still wasn’t sure why.
Just then, I heard a buzzing noise: my mom’s phone, over on the counter. She got up, glanced at it, then sighed. “I totally forgot I’d committed to this Children’s Hospital event last spring. Now they keep nagging me about meetings and budgets.”
“Remember what we were talking about, Julie,” Ames said. “First things first.”
She gave him a grateful look. “I know. But I should at least bow out gracefully. I’ll be right back.”
With that, she was gone, padding up the stairs to the War Room. Which left me with Ames.
“So,” he said, leaning forward. “Now that it’s just us, tell me the truth. How are you really?”
He always smelled like cigarettes, even if he hadn’t just smoked one. I eased back a bit. “Okay. It’s a change, but I wanted to do it.”
“Bet it’s been hard to follow in Peyton’s less-than-ideal footsteps. My little bro felt the same way.”
I nodded, picking up a cookie and taking a bite. I wished my mom would hurry up and come back downstairs.
“You know,” he continued, “if you ever need to talk, I’m here. About Peyton. About anything. Okay?”
No thanks, I thought. But out loud I said, “Okay.”
By the next day at lunch, I was already dreading the final bell. I had no idea how often Ames came over in the afternoons, but I was certain I did not want to see him, much less talk to him, especially if my mom wasn’t around. Thinking this, though, I immediately felt a pang of guilt. He hadn’t done anything except creep me out. And that wasn’t a punishable offense.
I knew I could say something to my mom. But she had so much on her mind, and Ames was Peyton’s best friend. He’d been supportive during this last crisis, and every one since he’d been in the picture. Even when my dad was sick of hearing about Lincoln and the warden and Peyton’s appeal, Ames listened. I didn’t want her to lose him, too. Especially since I had nothing specific to point to, just a feeling. Everybody has those.
There had been a time when I told my mom everything. Even after Jenn came into the picture, and then Meredith, I’d always considered her my best friend. We just saw things the same way. Until we didn’t.
It started with Peyton’s initial busts, how surprised I’d been to hear her defend him, even when he did the indefensible. No matter the offense, she could find some reason it was not entirely my brother’s fault. And then there was David Ibarra.
In those first days after the accident, as my parents dealt with bail and lawyers, all I could think of was this kid, just a little younger than me, lying in a hospital bed. I knew from the reports I both came across and sought out that he was paralyzed and not expected to walk again, but there were not that many more details, at least initially. I had so many questions. I couldn’t help but ask them.
“Shouldn’t we apologize?” I said one day. “Like, in the paper, or make a statement?”
She gave me a heavy, sad look. “It’s an awful thing that happened, Sydney. But the law is complicated. It’s best if we just try to focus on moving forward.”
The first time I heard this, it made me think. By the fourth or fifth, I saw it for the party line it was. I looked at David Ibarra and saw shame and regret; my mother saw only Peyton. From that point on, I was convinced that no matter what we looked at, our views would never be the same.
My fourth day at Jackson, I was sitting at lunch with a turkey sub, flipping through my math textbook, when I felt somebody slide onto the wall a bit down from me. I heard some clicking noises, followed by the plucking of guitar strings. When I glanced over, I saw a guy in black glasses, jeans, and a vintage-looking button-down shirt, a guitar in his lap, strumming away.
He wasn’t playing a song as far as I could tell. It was more bits and pieces: a chord here, a short melody there. Every once in a while, he’d hum for a second, or sing a phrase, sometimes pausing to jot in a notebook beside him. I went back to my textbook. A few minutes later, though, I heard a voice.
“Oh, Eric. Really?”
I looked up, and there was Layla. She had on shorts, an oversize floral-print T-shirt, and strappy sandals, her blonde hair loose over her shoulders. As I watched, she put her hands on her hips, cocking her head to one side.
“What?” the guy said. “I’m practicing.”
“Oh please, you are not,” she replied. “You’re running your tired game on this poor girl, and it’s not going to work because I already warned her about you.”
He stopped playing. “Warned her? What am I, a predator now?”
“Just slide over.”
He did, looking displeased, and she plopped down between us, turning to face me. “I’ve been looking for you. I should have known Eric would find you first, though. He’s got a nose for new blood.”
“Okay, you really need to stop now,” Eric said.
Layla flipped her hand at him, as if he were a gnat circling. To me she said, “I’m not saying I believe you are a girl who would fall for this act; I wouldn’t insult you that way. But I was. So I’ve made it my mission to spare others my experience.”
“We,” the guy said, doing one big strum for emphasis, “have been broken up for over a year. I think you can stop now.”
She turned to look at him, again tilting her head to the side. Then she reached out and brushed his hair back from his forehead. “You need a haircut. Shaggy Hipster doesn’t suit you.”
“Don’t touch me,” he grumbled, but it was good-natured, I could tell. He went back to playing, leaning over the guitar, and she smiled, then turned back to me.
“Eric’s in a band with my brother,” she told me. “They’re pretty awful, actually.”
Excerpted from "Saint Anything"
Copyright © 2016 Sarah Dessen.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Sarah Dessen:
"Sarah Dessen is something of a rock star in young adult fiction. Her bestselling coming-of-age novels are warmly written explorations of teens in transition that are, by turns, questioning, humorous and hopeful." —Los Angeles Times
"Dessen is as skilled as ever at turning out steady, satisfying stories about teens that are easy to fall for." —Publishers Weekly, starred review for The Moon and More
"Readers can count of Dessen; she's a pro at creating characters caught at a nexus of change, who have broken relationships and who need to make decisions. . . Readers will enjoy every minute they spend with her." —Kirkus Reviews on What Happened to Goodbye
"Realistic teen dialogue, authentic girl friendships, and a complex underlying question: Can people really change?" —Kirkus Reviews on Along for the Ride
"Good story, real characters, happy ending. . . another must-read." —VOYA on Lock and Key
"The romance which forms the core of the story is everything a romance should be." —Horn Book on Just Listen
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Sydney feels invisible.... Her bother had always had all the attention - the golden boy. Even now, in prison for driving drunk and hitting a teen riding his bike home at 2 AM, Peyton is still the center of his Mom's world. She focuses tirelessly on efforts to aid him in prison and push blame away from him. Sydney is lonely and even though she has some good friends at a exclusive private schools, when money gets tight, she decides she is going to transfer to local public school. It is here that she meets Layla and her family and her life is forever changed. Layla is anything but invisible, and she refused to let Sydney remain in the shadows. For her part, Sydney grows to love this girl and her family and she feels a connection there that is missing at home. She is not invisible when she is with Layla, Mac and the rest of the Chatham family, but she still wishes that she could connect with her parents, that for once, they would pay attention to her. When the tide turns, however, and her mom does start to pay attention, it's not at all for the reasons or in the way that Sydney had hoped. This book has many moving pieces: great characters, intersecting plot lines and a myriad of themes. Teens will love this book. It has the expected Dessen romance thread, but this book is so much more than that. It's about acceptance, family, friendship, finding your voice and your place in the world. As the story progresses, Sydney develops a really good sense of self and sense of others. As a teacher, this was nice to see in a teen character.
MY THOUGHTS I've read almost every Sarah Dessen book and this one has to be one of my favorites! It was absolutely beautiful! Sydney has always felt like she was in her older brother's shadow, but for the past few years her brother has been in and out of holding cells and escorted home by officers. Then her brother drives drunk and hits a teenager on a bike, paralyzing him for life. Now Sydney is known as the girl with the brother in jail. Sydney decides to move to a new school, away from the whispers, and ends up becoming friends with a girl, Layla, whose family works in a pizza shop. She gets introduced to Layla's brother and Layla's friends and Sydney begins to feel happy again. But her parents are too preoccupied to notice anything but Sydney's brother. What I love so much about this book is how much depth is within it. This book has the usual coming of age tale that I expect from Sarah Dessen, but there's so much more to it. It has a strong aspect of family. Sydney's parents, especially her mom, become very controlling of Sydney in this book, as if she is her brother. They also see Peyton, Sydney's brother, as a victim and even act as if Peyton is away at school, not in jail. It is very infuriating the way they treat Sydney, but it's very realistic. Sydney begins to live outside her brother's shadow. She's at a school where no one knows her brother's past and she has friends that like hanging out with her. It's hard for Sydney to have a life like this because of her parents who always seemed like they liked Peyton more, especially now. We really get into Sydney's life and point of view. Her character is very realistic! She has her flaws, but she's the girl that will always do the right thing and will always be there for her friends. Something her parents can't see. It's very beautiful, though, seeing Sydney change and grow throughout this book! There is a romance, but this isn't a romance book. There is so much more to this book! IN CONCLUSION I love this book so much! I was so engrossed in this book! It was absolutely beautiful and it was amazing seeing Sydney and her growth! Really, I recommend this book for everyone!
I can remember the first time I picked up a Sarah Dessen book, and I've enjoyed every one since. Saint Anything is worth the read, it's beautiful, refreshing and real. Sarah Dessen has an amazing writing style and if you loved any of her other books or if you are looking for a book that leaves you smiling you've found it in Saint Anything.
I've read almost all of Sarah Dessen's books. My top favorites are The Truth About Forever and This Lullaby. Saint Anything was amazing! This book now goes into my list of favorite books I've read . Would definitely recommend.
I’m quickly becoming a huge Dessen fan. No surprise, right? The Moon and More is the only Dessen book that I had read prior to this one, and I think I liked this one even more. Sarah Dessen writes such gorgeous coming of age stories with a depth that really touches you. Her stories are cute and fun, yet always pack an emotional punch of some kind. This was no exception. Full of the cuteness that I love so much, as well as the feel necessary to keep me focused on the big story. I was used to being invisible. People rarely saw me, and if they did, they never looked close. I wasn’t shiny and charming like my brother, stunning and graceful like my mother, or smart and dynamic like my friends. That’s the thing, though. You always think you want to be noticed. Until you are. Sydney is living in her brother’s shadow. Her brother, Peyton, is in jail due to a motor vehicle accident. It seems their parents do nothing but make excuses for Peyton’s behaviors, and Sydney spends her days feeling sorry and regretful to the family that was touched so deeply by Peyton’s mistakes. Their parents also completely restrict Sydney from almost everything, worried she will follow in her brother’s footsteps. Living in his shadow is getting old, fast. Sydney is my favorite type of MC for stories like this. She’s surely flawed, yet always makes smart decisions and puts others first. She’s a true friend and a great daughter/sister, even despite all she is going through. I really enjoyed the emphasis on friendship in this book. For the most part this story was Sydney’s story. Her learning to accept the past and move on to a brighter future. Her meeting new friends, seeing the strengths of a “real” friendship, and eventually letting others go that don’t belong in her life. And in the end, finding time to indulge in a little romantic relationship as well, one she didn’t expect at first. In true Dessen style, these characters brought this story to life. Even a great story is nothing without wonderful characters to carry us through, and this was no exception. From Sydney herself, to Mac, Layla and their family, this unique set of characters are one of my favorites so far this year. Sarah Dessen never disappoints. NEVER! Dessen fans will love this book. :)
This is the first Sarah Dessen book that has actually caught my attention and I could keep me turning page after page. Honestly, I felt like I could relate to Sydney so much, never getting noticed. I recommend this to anyone who ever feels like that. Especially, young girls.
Kassandra Serrata Book review Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen was a realistic novel in the 1st point of view. It is about a teenager named Sydney Standford was the second child that was not paid attention to. Her brother went to prison after running a 15-year-old boy late at night. She has a hard time through high school because of her mom, but manages through it. This novel was a rather slow book rather than fast as it was dragged throughout the entire book. Sydney, the antagonist, was nice and would always help others than herself. She would do the right thing even if it meant she did not totally agree to it. She was a very caring person unlike her mother, the protagonist. Her mom, Julie, was mean and controlling. She only wanted what was best for her and he family no matter at whose expense it would cost. If it did not affect he family in a bad way she did not worry about it. She could not face reality about her son being in prison. In the novel Sydney was always the one who did not get attention from her parents. Her parents were to busy focusing on their favorite child, Peyton, that they did not notice how Ames was not a good person. Mac would have to be my favorite character as he did not judge no one or really cared what people thought of him. He did what he wanted to do and focused on his education instead of other distractions. If I was the author of this book, I would change a few things like how the mom was. I would change her attitude towards her daughter and I would change how no one noticed Ames. No one noticed just how much of a creep he was and how he would have hurt people if he didn’t get caught. This novel was okay, but not great as I felt I could’ve done better if it was not as dramatically dragged and if it did have a few more details added. I personally would not recommend this book to anyone who I know.
Saint Anything has been received with many open arms landing at the third spot for New York Times Bestseller list this week with its debut. This is well-earned for Sarah Dessen’s twelfth novel for young adult realistic fiction. Saint Anything is relatable for many readers for several reasons like being hidden behind an older sibling’s social shadow, transferring schools, and finding yourself. Sydney, the protagonist, is trying to forge a path for herself after her brother, Peyton, has gone to jail for paralyzing a young man, David Ibarra. After the incident Sydney decides to transfer from Perkins Day, the local prep school, to Jackson High School, the local high school where she hopes for a new beginning. Her friends from Perkins Day try to keep in touch with Sydney, but as she experiences Jackson High she changes her views and disagrees with what her Perkins’ friends are doing. Early in the book Sydney meets a group of friends that intrigues her and pulls her in to their small orbit of events. Throughout their adventures she grows closer to Layla, the only other girl in the group, Mac, Layla’s attractive brother, Irv, the giant football player, and Eric, the ego-centric guitarist. Each person has their own impact on Sydney’s character development as she discovers herself. Sydney also grows closer to her brother and begins repairing their tension-filled relationship that was formed after he paralyzed David Ibarra. Sydney comes to grasps with what her brother did, and she goes through obstacles of her own that change her view of the world that is moving around her.
I've read this book about 8 times now (I never re-read books!) and I can honestly say it's my favorite!! The book is a beautiful blend of family, friendship, and romance that fills you with a warm feeling that you can only get from the feeling of all around love! I highly recommend this book to anyone, not just teenagers!!
Dessen has become one of my FAVORITE authors this past year. I had never read anything by her before and now I find myself wanting to read everything she's written. I've come to expect a poignant and emotional story with wonderful characters and excellent writing and Saint Anything did not disappoint. Following a young girl after her family has been rocked by the actions of her brother, we get to see how one person's actions can have an affect on not only their own lives, but the lives of people surrounding them. Sydney seems to take the situation the hardest and the fact that her parents and brother don't seem to see things the same way is a constant frustration for her. Living with the consequences of something she didn't even do leaves her distressed to the point of changing schools and finding a whole new circle of friends. In these new friendships, Sydney is able to admit certain truths to herself and eventually her parents and brother. She's able to move forward with her life again and see that family is more than just blood, but the people who truly care about you and make it a point to be in your life. If you're a fan of Dessen, contemporary YA fiction, and emotional and compelling stories, you will love Saint Anything.
First of all, DON'T read this book if you're dieting because all I wanted to eat was pizza and french fries the entire time I read this book, haha! This book was just so so for me. It was very slow most of the way through and only picked up for me the last 100 pages or so. The ending was redeeming though. I'd recommend it, only just because it was very well written.
I read this at age 11, so this may not be an accurate point of view of you are in your teens, or even, as I am not yet, a tween. However, I encourage you to read on. This being my first (probably of many) Sarah Dessen read, I will tell you that I did not know what to expect. The story itself is about a young girl, Sydney Stanford. She has alwaya lived in her brother's shadow. He is the perfect boy, attractive at that. Then, one day, he get in trouble. This one thing, which got him suspended
I read the whole book on a 20 hour drive from indiana to texas and i loved the book. Couldnt put it dow n.
Always in the Shadow Have you ever wondered what the victim's family is going through? The realistic fictional novel, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen is a romance novel written for young adults and older, the age range is from about 15 years of age or older. In this novel you are carried along the journey of a family who’s son has committed an immense crime. This book is about a family of four, the characters included the mother, father, Peyton, and Sydney. They are a very united family, or at least that is what the parents believe, but Sydney does not agree. After the incident, Sydney realizes even more how disconnected she is from her family. This book was recommended to me by the Arcadia High School librarian; he said absolutely amazing things about this book. This book stood to its expectations one hundred percent. This book is amazing from the book title, and cover, all the way to the text itself. The author of this book, Sarah Dessen, won the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Young Adult Fiction in 2009, and this novel that she wrote demonstrates perfectly why she won the award. This book had me intrigued from beginning to end, and that is saying a lot because I personally am not a big fan of reading. However, this book was unlike any other book I have ever read this book has a very well thought out plot, setting, conflict, and rising action. The book has you on the edge of your seat from the very beginning sentence which says: “ Would the defendant please rise”, the jury says in the Sarah Dessen book. As you read the book you are carried through the life of Sydney, alongside of her you go through a series of many emotions which include disappointment, sadness, happiness, and guilt. All these emotions are caused by her family, who she does not feel connected to. She makes it known throughout the story that she does not feel united with her family because they don't understand her. As the novel continues, you begin to discover that Peyton no longer is the good little boy from the lower campus of Perkins Day, he is now a grown boy who has moved up to the Upper school campus of Perkins Day. That causes him to take a couple wrong turns. However, no matter what Peyton did, in his parents eyes he would never do anything wrong. The one who always ended up paying the consequences was Sydney herself, but she did not really mind that. Even when all her parents could focus on was her brother, she still managed to get through it and always think of others before herself. As the novel continues she begins to make new friends. Also her life begins to go back to normal or at least as close to normal as possible. She also gets into a relationship which causes her to become happier, and later begins to think about college. Also her relationships with her parents improves immensely. By the end of the book Sydney is no longer in the shadow, she is now herself. All in all, this book is hands down the best book someone has ever recommended to me. I have not finished a book in at least three years; however, this book broke that record. This book was so intriguing that it caused me to not be able to book the book down, and I was able to finish the book in a matter of days. I one hundred percent recommend this book to anyone who is looking to get back into reading. I also recommend it to anyone who is a young adult or older, looking for a book full of adventure, suspense, and self-discovery.
originally posted on geekglitter.com It's been ages since I've read a Sarah Dessen book! I used to love her novels in high school. (I can still remember funny lines and dreamy romance from This Lullaby, ten years later). Sadly, it had also been a long time since I read a contemporary YA fiction that I actually enjoyed. Since I always really loved the writing style and characters of Dessen's novels as a teen, this seemed like a good choice to break that streak. While not as memorable as some of her others, I still enjoyed reading Saint Anything. What I Loved About Saint Anything Most of the characters in Saint Anything felt very real. I loved Layla, the bright best friend whose french fry habit was borderline obsessive. She was not afraid to be her own person, but her care for her family and friends was obvious. The Chathams as a family were a great addition to the story. They had a realistic dynamic as well: familiar and loving, but not without their share of strain and hardships. Even those characters who seem a bit one-sided throughout the book, such as Sydney's mother and brother, are given their chance to be human near the end, when Sydney realizes that they aren't always how they appear. What I Was Iffy About Many elements of the book were really intriguing to me, but there were almost too many to keep up with. Dealing with a family member in prison, dealing with sexual assault, the romance with Mac, the friendship with Layla, Layla's complicated relationship with her family, etc. etc. I felt like Dessen tackled a few too many issues in one book. There were so many story lines and tangents going at any one time that I felt like the book lacked focus. I also wasn't a huuuuuge fan of the slow romance. Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for insta-love, and I always appreciate when a book doesn't let a romance be the sole focus. However, in this case I didn't feel very invested in the relationship. Lastly, I felt like Sydney's growth as a character was only just beginning at the end of the book. I would have liked to see more of how that progressed. Overall, while not super likely to stick with me, this was still a nice read that I'm glad I picked up. And this gorgeous cover looks so magical that I might just leave it out on my table a while longer!
I absolutely loved this book.
I read this book with no expectations because I have never read a Sarah Dessen book before. I am so glad i read it though because the Chatham family reminded me loads of the Weasleys from Harry Potter, so I recommend reading this book, and many others of Sarah Dessen's.
This book hit all the right chords for me. Despite being about a very complex and heavy topic, Dessen finds a way to insert really heartwarming scenes throughout the novel that make me appreciate all the characters. I loved that this book spent so much time on the Chatham family dynamic. It is a major pet peeve of mine when YA novels neglect to talk about the teenagers' home life and parental interactions. This is not a problem with Saint Anything. The reader gets a super clear picture of the Chathams and Sydney’s family to make a pretty stark comparison. Dessen also gets major points for the complexity of Peyton’s situation. It would have been easy to paint him as a bad kid who was finally stopped when he hit a pedestrian while drunk driving. But the fact that he was trying to get his life back on track, was applying for trade schools, and leaving his past behind, makes the reader empathize with his guilt and sadness so much more. Overall, this is a really well written YA contemporary that I would recommend to anyone :)
I've read many of Sarah Dessen's novels, there are only about two I haven't read yet, but I love the way she writes. It's more realistic and relatable than most novels I've read. The library I work at recently ordered Saint Anything in hardback, their first copy of it. I jumped on the opportunity of reading it. Three days later I was done reading it... And I loved it!! This is probably one of the best novels I've read by Sarah Dessen, and that's saying a lot since I love all of her books! I definitely recommend it to anybody who is considering reading it! Give it a chance ? It is predictable but the emotions I felt while reading it were strong and it touched me in a way I needed during that point in my life while reading it. Saint Anything was exactly what I needed. ?
This isnt her formal teen love teen drama like the rest of her books. This one is deeper & realist. It was okay had good parts. Out of all of them this was my least fav