Monday, September 13, 2010
Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
"As children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They were also one another's only friend. So when Cameron disappears without warning, Jennifer thinks she's lost the only person who will ever understand her. Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed. Known as Jenna, she's popular, happy, and dating, everything "Jennifer" couldn't be---but she still can't shake the memory of her long-lost friend.
When Cameron suddenly reappears, they are both confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken.
From the National Book Award nominated author of Story of a Girl, Sweethearts is a story about the power of memory, the bond of friendship, and the quiet resilience of our childhood hearts."
The synopsis had me hooked right off the bat, which led me to pine for this book for months. I knew that it would be poignant, but I could have never expected its beauty.
At first glance, this can seem like a very cliche tale. An outcast becoming popular, then her 'perfect' life becoming shaken by the reappearance of an old friend. But it was definitely different from what I thought.
Jennifer Harris was constantly tormented by her classmates in elementary school, often called "smelly" and "fat" among other things by her peers, or being shunned altogether. But, once she meets Cameron, who sees past her exterior into who she truly is, everything changes. They form a strong, loyal bond that seems to be unbreakable. She begins to uncover bits and pieces about Cameron's home life, and finds out about his abusive father; the most unforgettable, heart-wrenching encounter that she had with Cameron's father is broken up into small segments throughout the chapters, its harrowing twists and turns making your pulse quicken and your heart ache for everything that Cameron had to go through. Jennifer's home life isn't so spectacular, either; her single mother is struggling to make ends meet, and has to work nearly all the time just to support the two of them, and never has a moment for her young daughter. As the adversity in the two children's lives build, so does the strength in their connection. But soon, Cameron is gone without a trace; even worse, everyone tells Jennifer that he's dead.
Devastated and alone, Jennifer slowly transforms into Jenna. She loses weight, wears new clothes, and goes through a complete metamorphosis on her surface. Her mother marries a man who is a kind, loving stepfather to Jenna; this also gives her a new last name, bringing the change full circle. Now, this is where the story is different from other stories about makeovers: it isn't like she's suddenly part of a ritzy popular crowd. In fact, she goes to an alternative school and befriends a group of incredibly unique individuals that are set apart somewhat from the typical popular people: her friend Katy has ADHD and anger management issues; Steph has a learning disability; and her boyfriend Ethan is described as a "creative genius," which is why they go to a small charter school. I liked the fact that there was some diversity in the group, and it wasn't only a plain vanilla mix of jocks and cheerleaders. Still, they are pretty well-liked and mostly good people, but Jenna begins to question whether or not they like her for who she is or who she pretends to be. Now, on her seventeenth birthday, she gets a birthday card from her old best friend, Cameron-and soon enough learns that he's here to stay, at least for now.
One of the unique things about this book is that it is deeply grounded in reality. I can imagine every single event that happened in this book occurring in real life, for better or for worse. Cameron is not the sweet little boy that she knew before, even though he still has a kind heart; due to what has happened to him since he last saw her (you'll read about it in the book), his personality is jaded and guarded, although not necessarily in a mean way. But, his true heart shines through often throughout the book, and he has some unforgettable lines that almost took my breath away. Their relationship falters and grows in a plausibly inconsistent fashion, as they piece together their old memories, some of them too painful to think about right away. How they react to the nostalgia of their old times together was intricate, how Jenna began to revert back to her old tendencies, and how she often saw Cameron as the little boy she knew, not someone who was about to reach manhood. Still, their relationship was sweet (no pun intended).
The end was disappointing for me, nothing that I saw coming. It was only fairly upsetting, and it didn't exactly ruin the book, but it did dampen the warm and fuzzies a bit for me. However, it was written so beautifully that I might just change my mind.
I give this book five stars-actually, I'm going to revise the system and rate books in golden clouds-or silver, or bronze, whatever works for the novel. So, I give this book five golden clouds-it seems appropriate for a literary castle in the sky, wouldn't you say? ; )
Oh, and on a side note, sorry that I haven't been posting much lately. I haven't been feeling well for the past couple of weeks. I think that tomorrow I'll be posting The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson. But for now...
Until the next review,
P.S. Both the picture and synopsis were taken from the official website of Books A Million.
P.P.S. I watched the VMA's last night. What did everyone think?