If it comes back to you, it's yours
If it doesn't, it never was
When Jennifer was in elementary school, she had only one friend. His name was Cameron, and he meant the world to her. When they were together, the taunts of their classmates didn't matter . . . as much. Jennifer always felt safe with Cameron.
That is, until one day in fifth grade, when something horrible happened to them. Shortly thereafter, he stopped coming to class. Their teacher said he moved; their classmates said something worse. Cameron was gone for good - or so Jennifer thought. On the day she turned seventeen, he walked back into her life. A life very different from the one she used to lead.
In the eight years since her friend's disappearance, Jennifer has changed considerably. She lost weight, gained friends, and started going by Jenna. She attends a small charter school and has her first serious boyfriend, the popular and sweet Ethan. Her once-single mother, who struggled for years to make ends meet, married a kind man. Alan has given Jenna and her mother his last name and a stable home.
Though Jenna has changed on the outside, she's still Jennifer on the inside, filled with insecurities and painful memories, all of which surface the minute she sees Cameron again.
He's grown up too. He's taller now, and his heart is heavier, but he's still Cameron. He's come back in search of closure, something Jenna's new life has never quite given her. Whether or not they find it depends on their willingness to deal with what happened when they were nine years old.
Cameron's reappearance causes Jenna to re-evaluate her present life. She knows that she wouldn't be who she is now if she hadn't gone through those experiences as a child and if she hadn't Cameron as a friend. How different would her life have been if he had stuck around? How different will it be now that he's back? Suddenly, her boyfriend, her friends, and her routines at home and at school seem surreal. She unintentionally slips back into some old habits, such as stealing candy bars and binge eating when she's alone.
Relayed in first-person narrative, Jenna's journey is emotional and believable. When she shed those pounds, she didn't shed her shyness. Though she could change her name, she couldn't change what happened to her. Meanwhile, Cameron's struggle to stay strong while he searches for a place in the world makes him an interesting mix of protector and someone who needs protecting. Though she doesn't ask him to be, nor is he trying to be, he isn't Jenna's White Knight. They both need saving in one way or another.
Though I greatly enjoyed Sara Zarr's debut novel, Story of a Girl, I was even more impressed by her sophomore Sweethearts. It's a compulsive read filled with tension and truth. Readers will want to know what happened to the main characters as children, something which is revealed in flashes and slivers throughout the book, and they will care what happens to them as teenagers. The book redefines the term sweethearts. I love that this was not a happily-ever-after story or even about romance. Instead, it was about connection, and a shared past, and how experiences can create the ties that bind.
I love the little details as well: putting junk mail aside to recycle, pulling over to talk on the cell phone rather than continuing to drive, finding importance in a note, in a ring, in a word, in silence.
Sweethearts by Sara Zarr delicately describes a fragile friendship. Second chances don't come around very often, and when they do, you have to make choices for yourself, for better or for worse, and find the strength to move on.
Sweethearts was released in February 2008.
Read the roundtable discussion of Sweethearts.
The postergirlz selected this title to be one of the recommended reads within the August 2008 issue of readergirlz. We then made it the main pick, the book of the month, for June 2009.
I also reviewed this book for the SparkLife book blog.
Related Posts: Book Review: Story of a Girl and Interview: Sara Zarr