Sydney has never been the center of her family’s attention. That spotlight has always been occupied by her older brother, Peyton. At first, it was for good reasons. Peyton was so outgoing and charming and friendly. He was athletic and smart. Then, he started getting into drugs and alcohol and he became the center of attention for bad reasons instead. When Peyton gets into a drunk driving accident where he leaves a teenage boy paralyzed, he’s sent to jail and each family member has a different reaction. Sydney is overwhelmed with guilt, her father throws himself into his work while her mom throws herself into what she’s always thrown herself into–Peyton. Seemingly forgotten, Sydney switches schools and meets siblings Layla and Mac Chatham. They draw her into their world and Sydney realizes that there are people out there who can see and appreciate her.
I LOVED THIS BOOK. Sorry, I just wanted to get that out of the way early. I finished this book and immediately had that feeling that you get when you’re done with a really good book–like there’s a vacuum sucking at your soul. This was the first time that I’d read a Sarah Dessen book critically. I’ve read all of her books, but before it was just for fun. This time I was looking at her writing, how I felt about her characters, the plot, etc. Maybe that’s why I felt like this book was deeper than her others (in reality, I may just need to read her other books with a more critical eye). Okay, let’s just get into the meat of the review, shall we?
Right off the bat, I could feel my heart aching for Sydney. She felt sadder than Dessen’s other protagonists. Not in a depressed way, but just overwhelmingly sad and lonely. Isolated. Her friends at school couldn’t possibly understand the situation she was in and her parents weren’t willing to go over it with her. So she was just alone with the shame and the guilt caused by Peyton’s accident. I will say, a lot of Dessen’s books place the main character in a new situation where they seem to “accidentally” make these cool new friends who are awesome. That happened in this book too–not that I minded, but I could see how some people might.
Layla and Mac were perfect in this book. I loved seeing their relationship as siblings along with their older sister and they are so sweet to their mom. It’s awesome to see such a tight family. Layla is THE BEST. Dependable, loving, and understanding…just what every girl needs in a BFF. And she just gets Sydney. She sees what Sydney needs and will give it to her whether it’s some tough advice, a listening ear, or some protection/back-up against Ames. Then there’s Mac. A decent guy, a NICE guy. I like that Dessen always has her protagonists end up with nice guys. Whenever there’s a “bad boy” in the picture, you can be sure that it’s not going to end well. The thing that I especially liked about Mac were the things that he didn’t do. *Mini Spoiler* It wasn’t Mac that saved Sydney from Ames, in the end, it was Sydney’s dad. I LOVED that detail. It’s not that Mac didn’t care about Sydney or wasn’t willing to throw down with Ames, I just love that her dad was the one who ended up punching that creep in the face. And I think that’s kind of how it should be. It seems like a lot of YA books have the love interest step into a protector role, so I appreciate that Dessen didn’t do that to Mac. I love that her father got that role in the end. *End Spoiler*
In the end, there were a couple of things that I didn’t care for: 1) There was kind of a lot of foreshadowing. Foreshadowing has a time and a place, but when it’s used too often, I find it very distracting from the present. 2) “I didn’t realize I was holding my breath”. Dessen used a derivative of this phrase at least three times. See Joey’s post over at Thoughts and Afterthoughts to see the true impracticality/improbability of this phrase. It’s something that kind of bothered me before, but after reading Joey’s rant, it’s even more aggravating.
But those were the only bad things! The rest of this book is AMAZING. It’s not plot-driven so much as it is character-driven and I love that about Dessen’s books. Nothing important ever really happens, but you can definitely see each character’s growth. Everyone needs to read this book. Then they need to reread it. I know I will be. Sarah Dessen does it again folks. I wasn’t a big fan of her last book, but this completely makes up for it. Standing ovation.
Overall Rating: 5
Language: Moderate. Strong language, but not frequent.
Sexual Content: Mild