Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Book Cover:  Sweethearts by Sara ZarrSweethearts 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.

And check this out:  here’s the lovely Sara Zarr herself (and me holding the book)!  I was fortunate to meet Sara this past May and will do so again this Saturday.

Sara Zarr

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!


  1. For me, Sweethearts didn’t go quite as deep as I wanted it to, but I still thought it was a good book, and I’m glad that Zarr decided to take on a difficult subject. I hope to read Story of a Girl soon.

    on August 22nd, 2008 at 12:41 am
  2. I know youre busy reading about 5 or 6 books a week, but I hope you have time for a short meme. You can find your istructions here:

    The agency won’t disavow knowledge of your actions should you be caught. That would be silly.

    on August 22nd, 2008 at 5:15 am
  3. Our family moved around a few times when I was in elementary school and I would reinvent myself every time (I used to be painfully shy). Once I finally reached middle school, we stayed put but I continued to be someone new or at the very least, hang out with a different clique every few years. I was still a librarian’s/ teacher’s pet and a bookworm but I had acquired an outgoing personality and was generally well liked. No more bullies and teasing though! I think I even made a few non-readers pick up a book :)

    Sounds like a really great story!

    on August 22nd, 2008 at 6:09 am
  4. I pretty much agree with you on this one. I really enjoyed the story a lot, and watching Jenna recreate/remember memories was pretty fun and awful at the same time.

    I also thought the continual mention of Mormons in a not overly positive way was super unnecessary. That one thing actually took away from my enjoyment of the book (I think I’m super sensitive or something), though I would still recommend it.

    Great review.

    on August 22nd, 2008 at 9:04 am
  5. Sounds like a nice book. I read Story of a girl by Sara Zarr and I liked it, so I’m going read this one soon.

    on August 22nd, 2008 at 11:54 am
  6. Great review and how lucky to meet the author. I haven’t read any of her books but I will definitely look into them now. This sounds quite good.

    on August 22nd, 2008 at 12:46 pm
  7. omg! that sounds like a wonderful book! i think i’ll be able to relate just fine because i always have that feeling that i don’t quite belong.. but yes. sounds interesting. i’ll definitly have to add it to my list! i’ll be watching this sat! =] great review as always btw. =]

    on August 22nd, 2008 at 6:08 pm
  8. [...] Comments Ginger on Sweethearts by Sara ZarrGinger on In Salt Lake on Saturday? Meet Me at the Library!Ginger on [...]

    on August 22nd, 2008 at 6:10 pm
  9. This sounds good. I’ve marked this to be read. Thanks!

    on August 22nd, 2008 at 10:43 pm
  10. [...] Dean Hale, Sara Zarr (um . . . . I’m sure you didn’t miss my three day stint with Sara here, here and an author interview here, did you?), Mette Ivie Harrison, and Ann E. [...]

    on August 25th, 2008 at 12:23 am
  11. I just finished reading it this morning and while I definitely enjoyed it the ending left me unsatisfied…although I kind of think that was the point. I think I just prefer books where things are very neatly tied up and there are no more questions otherwise I’m left feeling confused and sad. I get so wrapped up in characters when I’m reading that I really need a lot of closure when the story is done. I still liked it and I plan on reading Story of a Girl. Thanks for recommending this. I’m so glad that I found your blog!

    on September 11th, 2008 at 9:54 am
  12. I have to disagree with you about the Mormon thing. I lived near Hill AFB when I was the age Jennifer was and being a non-Mormon really felt like that to me.

    on September 18th, 2008 at 2:36 am
  13. Lenore – I’m not saying that her character had no right to feel isolated because she was LDS but rather that Sara Zarr didn’t pull it off very well in the writing. They statements seemed randomly inserted rather than concrete examples to back up the characters feeling. It’s unfortunate you felt that way as a teenager yourself. I grew up in the opposite situation (LDS in a non-LDS community) and had the same feelings of isolation as well.

    on September 18th, 2008 at 9:09 am
  14. I finally read this book a few weeks ago and enjoyed it. My impression of the Mormon aspect was that the author had grown up in an LDS community as a non-LDS person and wanted to vent a little. I can completely understand that, though I think you’re right that she could have done a better job of it. I was both interested in her feelings on it and embarrassed that the few situations she described happen often. But they probably happen in any community where there is a religious or cultural majority.

    on April 22nd, 2009 at 1:15 pm
  15. [...] Maw Books Blog [...]

    on June 17th, 2009 at 6:23 am
  16. i loved the book! it made me cry because i could compare to it so much!

    on August 29th, 2009 at 4:09 pm
  17. i want this book to be a movie

    on October 17th, 2009 at 7:06 am
  18. I was expection Cameron to return to her and tell her in person that he deeply cares for her and truly loves her. But in my honest opinion I cried at the end when he said he was leaving. Amazing book. It took me over 1 hour and a half to read it (:

    on January 22nd, 2010 at 5:17 pm
  19. [...] of interest:  Sara Zarr website, more book blogger reviews, Maw Books reviews of Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, interview with Sara and  breakfast smoothie recipe. Genre:  Young Adult Fiction Publisher:  [...]

    on August 28th, 2010 at 5:02 am

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