Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
To be straight with you all, I most likely would not have picked this book up had it not been our book club read. I have read Sara’s writing before… My heart broke when I read Story of a Girl and so I quickly picked up How To Save A Life and just couldn’t connect, ultimately, never finishing it. So I was torn on how I would feel about Sweethearts.
Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick are outcasts… the lowest of the low in the grade school social hierarchy. A bold move on Jennifer’s behalf ultimately turns them into best friends. Jennifer was teased for all the reasons you can imagine, the biggest one being that she was overweight.
Suddenly Cameron is gone… she’s told that he has died and her mother tells her she has to move on with her life and make new friends. Ultimately that is what she does, but it involves her mother remarrying, and them moving to somewhere that she isn’t known. And with that, she reinvents herself. She’s now Jenna and she’s the opposite of who she was then. Skinny, outgoing, confident. It takes a big amount of effort every day to become the person she has become. The popular girl with the popular boyfriend … she’s academically successful who is involved in all the school extras
Through it all, knowing she has everything she had wanted when she was younger, she still finds herself thinking of her friend Cameron and wondering what her life would be like now if he was still there. Then she no longer needs to wonder, because the lie she was told when she was younger is revealed to be false. Cameron is alive and the new student at her school.
Let me just get the part that bothered me out of the way right up front. Something happened with Cameron when Jenna was younger at his house and as a reader we are shown bits and pieces of that flashback. I really hated the snippets of it that we got here and there and I found myself skipping ahead because a memory would leave off on a cliffhanger and I simply wanted to know. Also, I really felt like Cameron as a character wasn’t explained as well as I’d have liked. I found myself wondering what the heck happened to him between 8 and now and as a reader we get very little explanation. Yes, he’s emancipated, but how can we connect with him if we really only know him through who he was when he was younger? Right now, I really just think he’s kind of a creepy stalker who basically threw Jenna’s life into a tailspin by showing up again.
What I liked was the story of friendship here and the realistic ending that was given. Steph … Jenna feels like the person she’s shown to the world over the last years isn’t the real her, and so she now questions the friendships she’s made and whether they’d like the real her. Steph I think really made Jenna see that who she was and who she thinks she pretends to be are actually the same person, and someone that she truly loves as a friend.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Cameron, even though that is probably the last thing on earth he’d want. At his young age, he’s had a rough life, but he’s making the most of it. He’s kept track of Jenna and he wanted to reach out to her one final time.
I absolutely loved the ending Zarr gave us. It was sad, and touching and gave us readers a tiny bit of hope. Not only for Cameron, but for Jenna too. Over the course of a few weeks, Jenna learned that she could own who she was and still have people in her life who loved her for that.
Overall I thought this was a touching and emotional story. This story will tug at your heart and really get you thinking about those childhood friends who, even if they aren’t in your life now, have touched you deeply…
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Sweethearts by Sara Zarr