First Lines: “Would the defendant please rise?” This wasn’t an actual question, even though it sounded like one. I’d noticed that the first time we’d all been assembled here, in this way. Instead, it was a command, an order. The “please” was just for show.
When talk of this first started up, I originally didn’t put it on my to-read list. Why? Sarah Dessen herself said it was going to be a darker book than she usually writes, and I was leery. But, as it is a Sarah Dessen novel, I decided it was worth it.
Sydney has always looked up to her charismatic brother, Peyton, until a serious drunk driving conviction earns him a long stint in jail. Everything Sydney thought she knew about her family has now been thrown into chaos. When everyone else is busy worrying about Peyton, why is Sydney the only one who seems concerned about the victim? A spur-of-the-moment decision brings Sydney to the Chatham family. They are a warm but chaotic family who run a local pizza parlor and pitch in at home to take care of their mother who has MS. It’s here that Sydney finally feels the acceptance she’s been craving. And it’s here that she finds Mac, who makes her feel seen for the first time.
In my opinion, this was another solid Dessen novel. Sydney is a good and reliable narrator to tell the story. She’s highly relatable. She doesn’t feel like she’s ever seen when her brother is around and her family never listens to her. (From the evidence in this book, she’s got pretty solid evidence to support the latter.) But Sydney’s also not perfect, and that made her even more amazing.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a darker book than she usually rights. But I think that’s mostly from the seriousness of Peyton’s crime and how everyone at home deals with it. It’s not a dark, depressing read by any means, but it is dark for Dessen.
The amazing cast of characters does a lot to lighten up the mood throughout the story. Layla and Mac, two of the Chathams, are excellent at breaking up the darkness. And this story can be really funny at times. That’s really nice for balancing out those really emotional moments.
And, of course, there’s a bit of a love story. It’s certainly not the focal point, like it is in some of Dessen’s other novels, though. Be prepared for that. It’s more of an afterthought…well, no, that doesn’t do it justice. It’s more in the periphery really. Not an afterthought, but just not what’s driving the story.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. Sydney’s invisibility at home will break your heart, and the Chathams will be right there to stitch it back up.