What’s on my nightstand? Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr.
Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick are social outcasts and best friends. They are subjected to relentless bullying at school, and at home, Jennifer is left alone while her mother goes to nursing school and work, and Cameron must deal with an abusive father. The kids form a strong bond as they weather the storms and loneliness together.
And then one day in fifth grade, Cameron disappears. Kids at school inform Jennifer he died.
Fast forward to senior year of high school. Jennifer Harris has transformed herself into Jenna Vaughn (her mother remarries), a smart, witty, and popular student–complete with cute boyfriend–at a small charter school.
And then on her seventeenth birthday, Cameron reappears.
Now, given the title, I expected the book to focus on boyfriend/girlfriend relationship stuff. Seems reasonable, right?
Wrong! I’d say the book is more about identity than relationships, though Jenna’s relationships factor into her identity. Cameron’s reappearance forces Jenna to reconcile the child she was with the teen she is. She feels like a fraud. As though her positive teen image is a mere mask hiding the chubby outcast loser kid she is inside. She’s drawn to Cameron because he knew the chubby outcast loser kid and loved her anyway; she’s not so sure her current friends would. She mistakenly thinks that because her current friends didn’t know her then, they don’t really know her now.
In truth, Jenna is as much Jenna Vaughn as she is Jennifer Harris, and her friends know her better than she thinks. The reconciling she has to do is within herself, not with her friends.
I lived in the same house for the first eighteen years of my life, and had the same friends, more or less, all though school. I did, however, have summer camp friends and school friends. I felt I was perceived differently at camp than at school. I never thought about one being more real or true than the other, though I did regret they seemed so separate. I was both the camp Jenny and the school Jenny, even if I liked being camp Jenny better–I felt more popular at camp.
These days, I almost feel as though I have multiple personalities–writer Jen, needleworker Jen, Alaska Jen, and still high school Jen, too. They’re just different facets of the same stone.
Jenna, on the other hand, struggles to make the two parts of herself fit together, perhaps because one part is so painful. Can any of you relate to that? It’s an interesting struggle, and Sara Zarr pieces it together nicely.
The ending is bittersweet. I’m generally a happy-ending kind of gal, but this one is just right for Jenna.
My only complaint about the book is the title. I think it’s misleading, and it doesn’t do the book justice. It sounds fluffy to me, but this book is not fluffy, it’s substantial; I’d even say it’s got an edge. Don’t judge a book by its title, right? Easier said than done.
I grabbed it because it was the May readergirlz pick. While I usually can’t get the books in time for the discussions, I’ve found I like their choices, so I read them when I can. Now I can go back through the old discussions on the readergirlz blog to get other readers’ takes on the book. It’s not as fun as participating in real time, but it’s the next best thing.
PS – Seven gallons and counting!