Sweethearts by Sara Zarr is a great young adult fiction book. Jennifer and Cameron, who as social outcasts with no other friends in the third grade are inseparable. They do everything together. And then after something happens in Cameron’s home on Jenna’s birthday, Cameron and his family disappears. Jennifer has lost the only person who truly understands the real her. Later in high school, taking advantage of a across town move and new school, Jennifer has transformed herself into a completely different person. Now known as Jenna, she’s popular, has a great boyfriend and great friends. But she’s scared that people are gong to find out that she’s a fake and then the true, old Jennifer will sneak out. Jenna is always on her guard to protect her new identity of self. In the back of her mind, Jenna always carries the vivid memories of Cameron, her long ago lost friend.
Jenna’s life is turned upside down when Cameron reappears in her life. Where has he been all this time? With his reappearance, she must deal with the memories of that day in Cameron’s home on her birthday years earlier. As she’s drawn back into her old self, she questions even more: Who is she really? Jennifer? Friendless? Chubby? An Outcast? Or Jenna? Skinny? Popular? Witty? Funny? A great story about coming to terms with your past and about the formative relationships in our lives.
I really enjoyed reading Sweethearts because it made me think about my own past, especially elementary school. I swear I have the WORST memory ever. If it wasn’t for the fact that I started writing in a journal at the age of eight, I think all of elementary school would be lost for me. I do have some vivid memories though. I remember my best friend Jenni England and how much fun we had together. I remember the neighborhood kids and how we’d play until way past dark. I remember David Foster asking me if he could kiss me while we were sitting in a apple tree when I was eleven. I also remember while in the third grade, a bunch of girls made up a story of how we were “touched” at a sleepover. Man that was stupid. I remember having to visit a counselor and everything to straighten it all out. I do not remember though, exactly how I was involved. Just like Jenna says, “Some memories are slippery.” I love books that bring out your own memories and Sweethearts did that for me.
There was only one thing that I think did not work for Sweethearts and that was the continual mention of Mormons simply because it was set in Salt Lake City. I totally get and understand that Sara Zarr was trying to convey the isolation that Jennifer felt, that she didn’t belong. But none of the characters nor her family were Mormons. I never felt that her awkwardness or lack of friends came from the fact that she wasn’t Mormon. I think it either needed to be reworked a bit to solidify that point or else not mentioned at all. (I did laugh out loud about a couple of the high school students dressing up like Mormon pioneers. Honestly, I don’t think any high school kid, Mormon or not, would want to be caught dead in that costume.)
On the other hand, I love reading books set in the city that I live. Whether it was driving past Pioneer Park, living in the Avenues, or shopping at the Gateway mall, I could totally immerse myself in the surroundings because I knew intimately about all of those places. I’d been there, done that. Loved it!
Two quotes from Sweethearts:
I think about how there are certain people who come into your life, and leave a mark.
. . . I’m talking about the ones who, for whatever reason, are as much a part of you as your own soul. Their place in your heart is tender; a bruise of longing, a pulse of unfinished business. My mom was right about that. Just hearing their names pushes and pulls at you in a hundred ways, and when you try to define those hundred ways, describe them even to yourself, words are useless. If you had a lifetime to talk, there would still be things left unsaid.
My brain doesn’t seem to work that way. Most specific things about Cameron are fuzzy – the day we met, how we got so close, exact words we said to one another. There are only moments, snapshots, pieces of the puzzle. Once in a while I feel them right in my hand, real as the present, but usually it’s more like I’m grasping for vapor. I understand that you can never have the whole picture; inevitably, there’s stuff you don’t know, can’t know. But when it comes to Cameron, I always want more than I have, would like to be able to take hold of at least one or two more pieces, if only because I’m convinced there are parts of myself hidden inside them.
I’ll have the book review of Story of a Girl, Sara’s debut novel coming up next. Sara was also gracious enough to grant us an author interview. Watch for that upcoming this Saturday!