New York: Little, Brown & Co, 2008
Genre: Realistic young adult fiction
Interest level: Age 12+
AR Level: 4.4
From the front flap:
“As children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They are 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 are both confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken.”
I don’t remember what first compelled me to add Sweethearts to my list, but when I picked it up from the library I was anticipating a nice, light, weekend read. So wrong was I. Sara Zarr’s Sweethearts packs a strong emotional punch. It’s not as emotionally raw and intense as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, but it has plenty of heartache. I’ll leave to you to discover what that heartache is, but I will say that I loved the way Zarr slowly unfolded Jenna’s past with flashbacks throughout the book. It’s not all told in the beginning.
The flashbacks to Jenna’s past, to her experiences in elementary school, make me think about my elementary students. We had a handful of girls in first grade this last year that just didn’t seem to have any (or many) friends. And we had some girls that were downright mean. As a teacher, I wonder if I could have done more to prevent bullying and encourage inclusive play. I don’t know, but next year I definitely want to be more perceptive, especially during recess duty, of the different groups of children.
Sweethearts is an excellent piece of storytelling. I haven’t read a book in a while that I so readily connected with, that made me more mindful of my own actions and past, and that made me want to start writing about it before I’ve even finished the book. The narrative progresses at a natural pace and I thought the end was tied up nicely but not too neatly. The characters also became very real to me. I don’t know that a sequel would fit, but I would like to know how Jenna and Cameron are doing twenty years down the road. Have they gotten past their childhoods and built and strong adult life?
Sweethearts is a good read and I plan to check out Zarr’s other works.