Note: This post was used as a homework assignment and may contain spoilers.
First let me preface this by saying that I absolutely love Sarah Dessen. I have read all of her books and loved almost all of them. This book is definitely no exception. I feel that Dessen defines her audience for this book best with her dedication: “For all the invisible girls” (dedication page). I do feel like this is a book that “invisible girls” will relate with, but at the same time, I think there are some aspects to it that are unrealistic.
Throughout the book, Sydney often thinks about how she’s invisible—especially to her parents. It comes as a shock, then, when the Chathams seem to notice her. This is essentially the aspect of the book that I have an issue with. There are plenty of invisible girls out there, but very few of them come across a Layla Chatham. This is the description that the reader is given of their friendship (emphasis added): “If I was the invisible girl, Layla was the shining star around which her family and friends revolved. We didn’t form a friendship as much as I got sucked into her orbit. And once there, I understood why everyone else was” (pg. 77). Layla chose to be friends with Sydney. Meanwhile, Sydney didn’t have to do a thing. This is not realistic! I wish that Dessen had made Sydney a little more proactive with making new friends and un-invisibleizing herself. I like that Dessen has relatable characters in her books—they really seem like normal girls—but more often than not they have a perfect friend who comes into their lives at the most perfect time. This might teach readers to be more complacent than they should be if they want to develop the kinds of relationships that Dessen writes about.
With all that being said, I really did love all of the friendships portrayed in the book. I was extremely effected when Layla moved her air mattress to block the door at that first sleepover—this is not your everyday kind of friendship. I also liked seeing that Sydney was able to maintain a relationship with her old friends.
Throughout the book Sydney’s dad is kind of a non-factor. Where Sydney’s mom has thrown herself into Peyton projects, her dad has thrown himself into work and has chosen not to be as present with his family. There are times, though, when his relationship with and feelings towards Sydney are apparent. I thought it was so perfect that Sydney’s dad is the one to save her from Ames. There are too many YA books where the love interest is the one who saves the girl and I love that Dessen chose to make that “savior” her dad instead.
I would recommend My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick as a read-a-like. It also features a girl meeting and being “adopted” by a family. Another good read would be Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park which deals a bit with sibling dynamics and potential feelings of inadequacy in comparison. Saint Anything got me thinking about the different saints. For anyone else who was curious, you can look them all up here (and yes, there is one for librarians/libraries).