Quick review for a progressive read, since I read the audiobook narration by Taylor Meskimen (who did a fantastic job with Sydney's narrative voice and infusing emotion into the novel overall).
This is the first title I've read from Sarah Dessen in a while, so this read came across to me like I'm reading her for the first time after a bit of distance. I'll admit I enjoyed the journey of "Saint Anything" for the most part. I definitely expected an emotional read given that this story revolves around a girl (Sydney) whose brother (Peyton) was involved in a DWI hit and run, paralyzing a 15-year old boy in the process. The story revolves around the transition that Sydney's family makes in the aftermath of her brother's sentencing. Sydney moves to a new school, ends up getting a new group of friends, tries to cope with the grief over what her brother did and her parents' protective reactions. Sydney's mom definitely infuriated me with her callous attitude and overattentiveness to both Sydney and Peyton, while Sydney's father seemed really passive up to a certain point. Sydney herself is rather passive, lamenting her limited freedoms and invisibility in comparison to her brother and his actions.
I really liked Sydney's relationship with Layla and her family. There really aren't a lot of positive female relationships emphasized in YA, so it was nice to see that in this novel, as well as a decent love interest as well in Mac, Layla's brother. I liked the attention to the relationships and the progressive relationships. Unfortunately, while this novel would normally have me saying "Give it ALL the stars", I couldn't help but feel like the narrative pacing in this novel was a bit too sluggish and meandering for the overarching conflicts. I definitely appreciated the attention to the character relationships and issues (Sydney dealing with the aftermath of her brother's crime, the awkwardness in her relationships with friends and family, and confronting the boy who was injured), but it felt like it could've streamlined a little better with respect to the narration and progression of the plot. Some moments had me hooked and wanting to continue reading, but there were other places I felt the sagging of the plot details. I thought the ending had a decent note to end on for where the novel began, tying together some of the conflict threads established early on.
There were a few other issues I didn't care for as much in the dialogue (there were some weird moments with respect to characters who were either overweight or had once been overweight that I didn't like the put downs for their body type/generalizations), but most were small enough to not really detract from my experience of the novel. Overall, I liked it and would certainly pick up more of Dessen's novels in the future, though in comparison to what I remember my experience with "Dreamland" to be, this novel was much more quiet, less intense, and a little less focused that I would've liked.
Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.