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 much about except that it starred Mandy Moore and introduced me to The Flaming Lips. 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.
Dessen’s books are often cited as essential contemporary YA. They follow teen girls who are usually going through a significant transition in their lives. Romance is 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 plot digs deeper than most of Dessen’s previous books, confronting things like unwanted sexual attention. Its moments of conflict and reprieve are equally balanced, and the dialogue is interesting and believable. Through it all, Dessen weaves details that felt so natural that I kept being reminded of my own high school experience.
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.
I decided to check out Dark Places after loving Gone Girl and ended up loving it even more.
While I really enjoyed Gone Girl, I didn’t connect with its main characters the way I connected with Libby in Dark Places. Flynn’s characters are always deeply flawed, sometimes unlikable, which isn’t a bad thing and in fact is often what makes them interesting, but Gone Girl‘s Nick and Amy feel far removed from anyone I know in real life. Libby is not only easier to relate to, but her growth and development throughout the book are insanely well done.
In the beginning, she’s depressed and stagnant. She has floated through life aimlessly since she was seven, when her mother and two sisters were brutally murdered by an unknown killer who may or may not have been her older brother. For the most part, she’s avoided thinking about it, but as the story progresses and she begins to examine that night more closely, she finally finds purpose in unraveling the mystery behind the killings.
I adored her relationship with Lyle, which serves as the catalyst for piecing the remains of her life back together after being shattered by her family’s deaths. (I recently learned that he’s going to be played by Nicholas Hoult in the upcoming movie adaption, which I think is a spot-on casting choice.) I like that their relationship remains platonic and open to interpretation. What Libby needs above all else is a friend, and Lyle provides that for her at a time when she’s desperate for it.
Bottom line: Dark Places is as dark and morbid as you’d expect from a Gillian Flynn novel but with ten times more heart.