Author: Sarah Dessen
Series: None. Standalone.
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Source: E-Galley from Netgalley
This was my first Sarah Dessen novel, and I can officially say I’m IN LOVE. I’ve started collecting her other books in hopes that I will work my way through every one. Along with her fantastic writing, this story was engrossing. I finished this in 24 hours! Here is your synopsis from Amazon:
Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?
Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.
The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.
1. Sydney is awesome! I loved her as the MC!
It’s very rare that I stumble upon an MC in YA that doesn’t, at some points, really annoy me. Sydney is so awesome. She feels like she could be my friend – like she’s a real person – while still staying true to being a teenager. Sydney is dealing with a lot of stuff: she’s switching schools (to save her parents money and for a change of pace), dealing with having to make new friends at said new school, and oh yeah, her brother is in prison. Her brother, Peyton, is the golden boy. At least, he was, until he started hanging out with the wrong crowd. (By the way, The Wrong Crowd exists in real life. They are horrible people. If you think your friends are The Wrong Crowd, then they probably are). Even with Peyton behind bars, Sydney is constantly living in his shadow. She always has a really early curfew and it seems like her parents don’t trust her, even though she always abides by their rules and does well in school. It’s supremely frustrating and I don’t know how she handles it. I would go insane! But, she handles it with a calm demeanor, humor, and a fair dose of awesome.
2. Layla is one of my most favorite book best friends.
I love Sydney and Layla’s relationship. Layla befriends Sydney pretty much her first day at school, and from that point on, they are inseparable. Layla’s family owns a pizza shop near Sydney’s new school, which is where we meet her HOT, awesome brother (more on him later). Layla is obsessed with french fries. She has a specific way of eating them – it really is scientific – and even carries around her own seasoning for ketchup. Food is a huge recurring theme in this book, so be prepared to need snacks while you’re reading it. Layla and her group of friends (including the aforementioned HOT BROTHER) take in Sydney, pretty much with no questions asked. Layla’s family even decides that they like Sydney immediately, which is exactly what she needs. Personally, I thought Sydney’s former friends were spoiled rich kids with zero depth. These kids have a lot more life, humor, and spontaneity. Layla also understands what Sydney is going through (to a point) which is awesome because Sydney is not one to complain about her problems – namely, her brother. Layla is an excellent support system for Sydney. I loved their friendship so much. They reminded me of me and my best friend (we’ve been going strong for 12 years) in the way that they are there for each other, understand each other, and want nothing but happiness for one another. I can’t sing my love for this friendship enough. FRIENDSHIP SHIP.
3. Sydney’s parents kind of piss me off.
No angsty story is complete without a set of parents who cause problems, right?! Good, because that’s totally what we have here. Before Peyton went to jail, Sydney’s mom was one of those moms. She was involved in the school, with their neighbors, and the community. Her father was really just along for the ride. He did whatever his wife asked him to do when it came to the social aspect of their lives. After Peyton goes to jail, their mom is kind of displaced. Her former friends shun her, while complete strangers stare at their family when they’re out in public. Peyton’s exploits are famous in their town (and honestly, probably beyond that). What he did was REALLY horrible. So, since she really has nothing to do, Sydney’s mom decides to plan out her whole life. When she’s not an overprotective shadow over Sydney, she’s driving hours to visit Peyton in jail. She tries to force a relationship between Sydney and her brother (even when she doesn’t want one), gives her a ridiculous curfew, and basically doesn’t trust her daughter as far as she can throw her, all because of her son’s horrible choices. As an older sibling who screwed up, I kind of feel bad for the mistakes I made. My younger sister definitely suffered for it, but nowhere NEAR what Sydney suffers because of her brother. A lot of the time that I was irritated or upset in this book was because Sydney’s parents were being so asinine about their daughter. They refuse to listen to her. Her father could have stood up for her, but it seemed as if he were too afraid of his wife. I really saw them as a Stepford family (minus the kids, because obviously).
4. There is a super creepy secondary character in this book named Ames. Creepy doesn’t even begin to describe the weirdness.
Ames met Peyton when they were in Narcotics Anonymous together. Since then, Ames had been Peyton’s best friend. He really becomes an adopted part of the family. From the first chapter, you’ll see how creepy Ames is toward Sydney. I can’t even think of a better word to describe him. Slimeball? Douchebag? Weirdo? I don’t even know. The bottom line: he makes Sydney uncomfortable and in turn, he will make your skin crawl. The worst part is that Sydney is too afraid to tell her parents that she doesn’t want Ames around because she doesn’t want to rock the boat. I mean I get it. Their son is in jail and their whole life is basically uprooted because of trials, lawyers, and legal fees. But, maybe pay attention to the kid living under your roof and NOT causing problems? I’m not a parent. Maybe I’m wrong, but that seemed off to me. A lot of stuff happens with Ames, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.
5. Mac Chatham is my new book boyfriend.
I don’t swoon a lot over book boys. I really don’t. I try not to get too obsessed because they’re only living in books. However, Mac is an entirely different story. The dude is always studying. He is always helping his sister and Sydney, no questions asked. He works at the pizza store, but has dreams of going to college instead of being forced to run the pizza shop for the rest of his life. Family business must stay in the family, after all. His mother has MS and the Chatham siblings all take turns caring for her. Their family dynamic is incredible. Even though they get annoyed with each other (which, doesn’t every family have that?) you can feel the love they have for each other ooze off the pages. Mac was raised extremely well, and it shows in the way he treats people. I adored him SO. MUCH.
6. This book was a lot about self discovery and love. All different kinds of love.
I’m reading more and more coming of age stories recently and loving them. I used to hate them, but I think you just need to find the right ones. (Another one I really liked was Winger. You should read that, if you have the chance!) Sydney has a lot to learn about herself. She struggles with her self worth because of her family. Her parents make her feel like she is some kind of delinquent because her brother made bad choices. She feels like a bad person because she believes her brother belongs in jail. Her parents love to ignore the fact that he did something absolutely horrific in order to get thrown in jail, and that makes Sydney feel like a bad person since she doesn’t lie to herself. Sydney struggles with friendships, too. Her friends from her old private school don’t understand what she’s going through, and we kind of get the sense that they don’t care, either. Once she meets Layla and her family, she sees what real friendship looks like. She sees what it’s like to be able to tell the truth about her feelings to someone who kind of understands what she’s going through. Sydney struggles with the love she has for her family. She’s always torn between loving her family because she has to and whether or not she likes them. There’s that saying, you know? How you HAVE to love your family, but you don’t have to LIKE them? But, liking them definitely helps and it’s heartbreaking to see her struggle with this. She wants to help and to prove herself, but it’s difficult when her family really only sees through her and doesn’t actually see her. Finally, she struggles with romantic love. Obviously, since we’re talking about Sarah Dessen, there is romance. She struggles with this romance because she still struggles with her own self worth. She thinks she is too messed up to deserve any happiness, and that just is not true. I loved this, and I loved seeing her grow up (not all the way, she’s still a teenager!) into this wonderful, self aware young woman.
OVERALL: FIVE STARS!!! I loved this book so, so much. It was beautifully written, engrossing, and just an all around great book. This comes out on May 5, 2015 so click the link below to pre-order yourself a copy! I know this review is long, so thanks for sticking with me!