Sweethearts by Sarah Zarr

Cameron Quick and Jennifer Harris are the best of friends.  Understanding each other at the truest level and  helping each other through difficult childhoods, neither needs anyone else until one day Cameron mysteriously disappears.  Devastated, friendless and overweight, Jennifer does all that she can to become a completely different person. She has the chance to completely remake herself  when her mother remarries.  She moves to a new town, changes her name to Jenna and takes on her new stepfather’s last name.

Jenna Vaughn is a successful senior at her small private charter school where each class contains a mere sixteen students. Surrounded by friends and a brand new boyfriend (a bit possessive, I thought) Jenna works hard to keep herself on an even keel with the components of her new life firmly in place.  Seeming to have a sixth sense about impending doom, Jenna starts dwelling on her past just as Cameron Quick returns from his haunting disappearance- sending Jenna spiraling toward old habits and memories that she wished to keep hidden from everyone, even herself.

I was into this book right away.  One thing which was particularly good from the start was the characterization of Jennifer as a child and then Jenna as a teenager.  They were so distinct and well-drawn that I thought of them separately while understanding how the child contributed to the existence of the teenager, and to the shaping of her character.  I’m usually not one for a whole lot of dialogue in books because I have found that it can be stilted or just not right, but the dialogue here was smooth and well done. Jenna’ characterization was wonderful and consistent.  The things she did and how she starts to unravel made sense even as I was rooting for her to make different choices.

I was in for a big surprise with this one because as I skimmed the back of the book, I made the assumption that Cameron was a girl. So I’m thinking maybe a mean girls type thing after they find each other again, leading to an eventual  acceptance if not outright reconciliation.  See how I make things up?  Hello! Cameron is a boy, and the relationship between Jenna and Cameron takes many turns.  I love the passion and suspense filled quality underlying everything.  Neither Jenna, nor I, knew what to expect when he comes back into town and I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom of the mystery and see what happened to him all those years ago.  I had a general idea, and I wanted t know if I was right as soon as possible but the story unfolded at its own pace. That’s a good thing because it just the right amount of nail-biting as I raced to see what would happen next.

Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr is a great book to read.  It’s supposedly for the young adult crowd, but that’s never stopped me before, and I think a wide variety of ages can benefit from this bittersweet coming of age story which palpably explores the meanings of love. The dramatic tension on this book is unbelievable and I can’t even tell you how I felt about the end. It’s a wonderfully different take on what constitutes love and real relationships.

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