I’ve been a fan of Sarah Dessen for a long time. I got into her books after watching How to Deal, which I honestly don’t remember anything about except that it starred Mandy Moore and had a Flaming Lips song in it. I liked it when I was 14, though, enough to go out and buy the two Sarah Dessen books it was based on—That Summer and Someone Like You. It also got me into The Flaming Lips, so that movie did some good in my life even if I don’t remember it.
Dessen’s books have often been cited as quintessential contemporary YA. They follow teen girls who are going through some significant transition in their lives. Romance is usually involved, but it takes a backseat to the other major events, which lead to personal growth and often familial healing. Saint Anything follows this basic Dessen formula, but the details are what make it stand out against her other books—and other YA contemporaries as well. It’s sprinkled with pizza and lollipops, nighttime jaunts through the woods, a band that kept reminding me of Hep Alien from Gilmore Girls, and a group of best friends better than any best friends have ever bested. The overarching plot goes deeper than most of Dessen’s previous books, moments of conflict and reprieve are equally balanced, and the dialogue is interesting and believable. Through it all, Dessen weaves details that feel so natural that I kept being reminded of similar things I experienced, loved, heard, and said in high school.
Bottom line: Saint Anything is Dessen’s most recent book and her magnum opus, with characters I wanted to hug and scenes I wanted to hide in. It’s going to be a tough one to follow.