Book Reviews

[review] Sweethearts – Sara Zarr

Release Date: February 1, 2008
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 224
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal copy

As children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They were also each other’s only friend. SO when Cameron disappeared without warning, Jennifer thought she’d lost the one person who would ever understand her. Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed. Known as Jenna, she is 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 both are confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken.

Sweethearts is a story about the power of memory, the bond of friendship, and the quiet resilience of our childhood hearts.

Discovery: I first heard about this book from my best friend Aimee, who fell so hard and fast for Cameron Quick that she got whiplash. Needless to say, that set up some really high expectations.

+     Themes. Most of the talk surrounding this novel involves the touching romance between Jennifer and Cameron, and while I’m inclined to join in that discussion, I would like to highlight the beautiful character development and themes in their story. Jennifer’s insecurities will be familiar to teen and adult readers alike–who wouldn’t want a chance to reinvent themselves and be one of the “cool kids?” As someone who knows exactly what Jennifer went through in elementary school, I found Sara Zarr’s take on bullying to be terrifyingly accurate.

Bullying isn’t restricted to kids who look different or who may identify as a different gender. It is easy to forget that there are kids out there without an alliance or celebrities to look after them and tout their cause. And as readers will find in Jennifer’s story, there is nothing more difficult than getting past all the hurt and bitterness. It’s even worse when you have no idea why you were chosen to be the laughingstock of the class. Zarr brings contemporary teen fiction to a whole new level with this no-holds-barred look at what life is like for the quiet kids, for the kids who don’t fit in, and the daily challenges they face.

+     Romance. Cameron Quick. Those of you who’ve already read Sweethearts told me that your heart skips a beat when you hear that name. I’m happy to count myself among your number now. I was expecting a flat-out obvious romance between Jenna and Cameron, but what I got was more beautiful and heartbreaking. I can’t recall a YA love story that relies so much on nuances and distance, and yet manages to show the reader just how deeply the characters feel for one another.

There is no guarantee of a happy ending. I reread this book a few days after my first go, looking for clues to the ending. Sara Zarr sprinkles the story with touches of hope and yearning, but never quite lets the reader relax. As adults reading this book, we know deep down how it will end. But the power of Zarr’s prose makes us believe, makes us wish for Jenna and Cameron and their childhood love story.

The final say: Anyone who wants to read contemporary YA should not pass this jewel up–Jenna and Cameron’s story is a precious shooting star of a novel.

Rating: Excellent.

Go visit Sara Zarr at her website and follow her on Twitter @sarazarr.

You can check out Sweetheartson Goodreads and order it over at Amazon and Book Depository.


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