Tell Me More: At the core of every Sarah Dessen story is a girl standing at a crossroads. Sometimes she knows she’s there, and she’s running from theTell Me More: At the core of every Sarah Dessen story is a girl standing at a crossroads. Sometimes she knows she’s there, and she’s running from the choice. Sometimes she doesn’t see it past the fog of everything else that’s going on in her life. It’s easy to find yourself in her stories, and it’s why her books have become a cornerstone of YA literature. Saint Anything is Dessen’s newest offering to her readers, and while it is a strong, technically beautiful story, it never really captivated me or convinced me to invest in its characters’ crossroads.
Sydney is reminiscent of Colie from Keeping the Moon: constantly on guard, frustrated, and almost unbearably lonely. She also reminded me a lot of Natalie Goodman from the musical Next to Normal, a daughter left to piece herself together after her brother bulldozes through the family’s peaceful life. It was hard to see Sydney for who she was beyond these comparisons. Dessen does lay some of the foundation for her character in Sydney’s interactions with her old friends, but there were moments in which it was just as hard to see how they ever became friends. You get the sense that Sydney doesn’t actually know who she is yet, and I spent a lot of the book worrying that she might continue to let other people and their actions define her.
It’s when Sydney meets Layla Chatham and Mac at her new school that the story begins to pick up. Layla was charming, to be sure, but even after I finished reading, I was never completely sold on Mac. My familiarity and love for Dessen’s books might have worked against me here, as Wes (The Truth About Forever) and Dexter (This Lullaby) will forever be the standard against which I measure YA love interests. Mac just doesn’t hit the sa-woon meter for me, and I didn’t feel that Sydney really needed him in the end.
The Chathams were an interesting family, as most of these supporting characters tend to be, and I appreciated their candor with Sydney. There just wasn’t enough to pull me into their world. Part of that might be from Sydney’s own reticence, but it’s also partly because I felt like I had read this story before, and I did. For the first time in my Dessen reading history, these characters felt more like slotted-in tropes than real people.
Dessen also takes on a darker subplot with her brother’s friend Ames’ uncomfortable interest in Sydney, which I still have mixed feelings about. I’m very glad that there was no sexual violence, implied or otherwise—I wouldn’t have wanted it in any fashion. I would have just appreciated a bit of clearer writing because there were scenes in which I wasn’t sure what Ames really wanted, and his character flip-flopped so often that I could never put my finger on his motivations.
Over the last decade, Dessen’s novels have been some of the strongest contemporary novels I've had the pleasure of reading. They've been comforting, familiar stories, and The Truth About Forever absolutely ruined me for contemporary YA love interests. That positive history with Dessen's work is what made my Saint Anything reading experience such a strange one.
I could recognize the formula for what it was, and still want to walk that path with Sydney, but I also found myself looking for something more. The formula drew me into comparing this book with her previous work, and while I wasn’t left wanting, it did leave me with the undeniable sense of having moved past needing these particular stories.
I don’t believe that Saint Anything is juvenile in any sense of the word, but it’s not the kind of story I’m looking for anymore. That’s okay. This is my own crossroads, and neither side is good or bad. They’re just different. And if there’s one thing that Dessen has taught me in the last ten years, “different” is sometimes exactly what you need.
Release Date:May 15, 2012 Publisher: Viking Juvenile (Penguin) Age Group: Young Adult PageYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: May 15, 2012 Publisher: Viking Juvenile (Penguin) Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 398 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: With the meteoric rise of Kate Middleton to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and future Queen of Britain came a renewed interest in the monarchy and its intrigues. Leading the pack, of course, is the infamous Henry VIII and his six wives. Catherine Howard, the third of her name to ascend to the throne, isn't usually the first to come to people's minds, and that is exactly what Gilt aims to change, with some unpredictable results. Simply put, your mileage may vary.
First things first: the cover is rather terrifying in context. As most people are aware that Henry VIII had almost all of his wives beheaded, the dull grey skin tone of the cover model is unsettling--is it supposed to be the deceased Catherine? The overt sexualization of the photograph is also worrisome: focus is placed on the lips and we are not shown the full girl, making her the sum of one part of her body. For a book aimed at teenagers, that kind of subconscious push is inappropriate and frankly, anti-feminist. Finally, from an aesthetic point of view, the colours, font and title placement just do not work together. If it was meant to highlight the garish nature of Henry's court, then it succeeded.
Writing-wise, there isn't much to say. With the exception of several anachronistic sayings like "shut up," Katherine Longshore's prose is suitable for the subject matter. The richness I was hoping for was absent from the story, but her writing style conveyed the story well enough. The narration, on the other hand, left me unsatisfied.
Kitty Tylney struck me as a mousy girl, timid and unwilling to face conflict. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It just doesn't make for a heart-pounding, exciting story or main character. There were many moments where I wished the story had been told from Catherine's point of view instead of Kitty, her "shadow." Shadows by nature go unnoticed and don't accomplish anything, and I never felt like I had to care about Kitty or her choices, especially when they were being made so far away from Catherine. In a sense, Catherine is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to Kitty's straight man, which doesn't work when they are constantly separated throughout the course of the book.
That separation also means that the reader isn't given the full Tudor immersion. Longshore's use of historical detail is impeccable, but it's lost on a narrator that doesn't experience the lavish and crazy intrigue of Henry's court. The change that Kitty undergoes in the novel isn't as powerful as it could have been, if she had been faced with the same moral conflicts as Catherine. Even the romances feel contrived and thrown in just to keep to the expected path of most historical YA novels. Kitty never really leaves the boundaries of her shadow self, and the choice to have her be the main character and tell this nerve of a story isn't justified. Here's hoping the next two books will feature heroines that take charge and do their utmost to chart their own way in a dangerous world.
The Final Say: Readers familiar with historical fiction may be left wanting more than Gilt is willing to give, with a main character that doesn't quite know how to carry an entire story on her shoulders....more