Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sara Zarr's Sweethearts



Zarr, Sara. 2008. Sweethearts.

A dripping faucet.
Crumbs and a pink stain on the counter.
Half of a skin-black banana that smells as old as it looks.
If I look at these things and at nothing else, concentrated on them and stay still, and don't make any noise, this will be over soon and I can go home without Cameron's dad ever knowing I'm here.


In that image-packed opening to the prologue, we meet Jennifer Harris, a fifth grader, who followed her best friend, Cameron, home from school on her birthday. He told her he had a special gift just for her. What she didn't know--couldn't know--was that Cameron's father was an abusive man. A rageful man.

Some memories are slippery. There are things I want to remember about Cameron Quick that I can't entirely, like the pajamas he wore when he used to sleep over, and his favorite cereal, or how it felt to hold his hand as we walked home from school in third grade. I want to remember exactly how we became friends in the first place, a definite starting line that I can visit again and again. He's a story I want to know from page one.

Isn't that a great opening? That's the first paragraph of chapter one. Jenna is now in high school. (I want to say 17, but it could be 16 or 18.) She's Jennifer no longer. Jennifer was lonely, miserable, teased, picked on, a cry baby who wore her heart on her sleeve. Jennifer was an outcast. A loser. Jenna, well, Jenna is transformed. She's beautiful. She's popular. She's scared and sensitive on the inside (at times) but doesn't show it. Jenna Vaughn. J.V. Cool kid at last.

Sweethearts is the story of what happens to Jenna's life when Cameron Quick comes back from the dead. Okay, this isn't supernatural. Her mother let her believe a lie "for her own good" of course. Cameron Quick moved away quickly, suddenly, without a word, without a trace. The facts? His mother had finally worked up the courage to leave her husband. Cutting all ties to the past. Trying to start over--out of sight--somewhere new, somewhere they couldn't be found.

Can Jenna reconcile her past with her present? Does her heart still have room for her former best friend?

Sweethearts is a wonderful novel. I loved it. I really and truly loved it. The writing, the style, the characters, everything about this novel was so good, so right, as close to perfect as a writer can hope to achieve. Sara Zarr's powerful imagery is just fabulous in my opinion.

There are moments I missed being Jennifer the way you can miss versions of yourself when you get a totally new haircut, or a favorite pair of jeans finally wears out. Even though it was sad that I'd spent so much time home alone eating and reading, the truth was that those were some of my favorite memories. Getting lost in a book with something sweet or salty or hopefully both, like stacks of crackers with butter and jelly, seemed, in some ways, the closest I'd gotten to complete and total happiness. (66)

*Note I read an ARC of this.

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