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The Quilty Reader

Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Game host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Saint Anything - Sarah Dessen

For Tomorrowland 34, I read Saint Anything because it is a YA book. This was my first book by Dessen - I've been seeing a lot of her books pop up on OB's feed, and I've been meaning to try her out for a while. It turned out that I owned this book, so I decided to read it, and while I had some issues with it, overall, I enjoyed it. I really liked Sydney, and her relationship with Layla.

Essentially, the book opens with the MC, Sydney's, brother being sentenced to some sort of prison/juvenile detention facility for a DUII crash in which he has paralyzed a 15-year-old boy named David. Peyton has been in a downward spiral for what seems to be described as at least a couple of years, but has been largely insulated from the full impact of his prior criminal behavior by affluence. The family is now struggling with the aftermath, while Peyton is off in prison. Neither parent handles it very well - Sydney's mother, Julia, essentially approaches it as yet another opportunity for inappropriate interventionist parenting and her father, whose name I don't even remember, is just basically checked out. 


I found the parents, actually, to be pretty believable, even though their behavior sometimes appears bizarre to someone who isn't involved with the criminal justice system. Parents of defendants have a limitless capacity to excuse the behavior of their child, even when their offense - and the consequences of it - seem entirely indefensible. Julia's behavior with respect to Peyton's incarceration seemed entirely plausible to me. There is more than one really uncomfortable moment of victim-blaming, where Julia points out that the 15-year-old victim shouldn't have been out riding his bike at night, and that if he'd been at home, where he should've been, her son wouldn't have been able to mow him over while blind-ass drunk, completely failing to acknowledge that her underage son also shouldn't have been out driving his car while hammered at night. These moments will make you want to slap Sydney's mother, and they are entirely consistent with the behavior of parents of individuals (no matter how old the children are, actually) who harm other people.


I liked the fact that Dessen included a scene with Peyton's lawyer where he points out to Julia that trying to contact the warden was inappropriate - I wish that she had expanded on this point a bit, actually. There are kids like Peyton, and one of the reason that kids like Peyton exist is because of parents like the Stanfords who insulate them from the true consequences of their behavior by using money and influence.

One of my friends, Obsidian Blue, mentioned in her review that she kept thinking of Brock Turner while reading this book. I would add that an even more obvious parallel is Ethan Couch, the teen with "affluenza" who got essentially a free pass for killing four people through the intervention of his parents money and influence.

I admired Sydney's clear-eyed view of her family, and Dessen did a good job demonstrating her discomfort with her parents behavior.

The one area that I had a serious issue was a subplot involving Ames, who was Peyton's AA sponsor before Peyton committed the crime that got him sentenced to prison. Ames is definitely not in the same social class as Sydney and her family - and he saw an opportunity to gain access and privilege for himself beyond his wildest dreams. His behavior towards Sydney was obvious to anyone who is less delusional than her mother. He was just gross, and no matter how delusional Sydney's parents were about Peyton, their integration of him into their lives was bizarre, incomprehensible and implausible. These are people who insulate themselves from the "common folk" with massive infusions of wealth and privilege - they send their kids to an expensive private school, and literally think that they can get a prison warden to ease up on their son when he's lost privileges inside of the institution. Inviting someone like Ames into their homes is completely implausible and incredibly frustrating.


Dessen did a good job describing the fractures within a family when one of the kids is extremely troubled, and what happens to the more functional child as the family tries to cope after they've lost control of one of their children. It is frustrating to watch Sydney be alternatively ignored and micromanaged by parents who are struggling with their son's behavior and their former inability to change, control or manage it. It is Sydney and, even, Peyton, who seem to be capable of assuming responsibility for their own behaviors as their parents try to wrest control back to themselves.


Taking these themes and generalizing them, I've both parented teenagers (my daughter is 20 & my son is 17) and been involved in the juvenile justice system (I actually prosecuted juveniles very much like Peyton - in my jurisdiction, he would've gone to prison for much longer than Dessen's plot indicated for the kind of injury he inflicted on the victim). These parents, and the juvenile system he was involved in, did Peyton no favors when they let him skate on his earlier criminal behavior, which included burglary. Ultimately, it is up to the delinquent to change his behavior, but parents who make excuses - far from helping their child - enable escalating criminality, which is precisely what happened here. I thought that Dessen's focus on these issues was effective. I'd really be interested to have her revisit this family once Peyton is released - according to the book, his sentence was 17 months.