December 04, 2012

Sara Zarr: "Sweethearts"

Title: Sweethearts [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Sara Zarr [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2008
Age: 12+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Heartfelt story with flesh-and-blood characters. Addresses poignant themes. Language is simple but masterly used. No forced teenager jargon.
Cons: Bittersweet ending (if you're a fan of happy ones).
Will appeal to: Those who value real friendship and the act of being true to themselves. Those who had their share of school bullying. Those who don't necessarily need a boy-meets-girl type of story. And yes, parents too.

Blurb: As children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They were also one another's only friend. So when Cameron disappears without warning, Jennifer thinks she's lost the only person who will ever understand her. Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed. Known as Jenna, she's 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. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: Before I start on this book,  I have to confess my bad case of allergy to love stories. I don't read YA (or adult stuff either) looking for a display of smooches. So, based on the rather fluffy cover and the misleading title, I shouldn't have read this novel at all...but I trusted the blurb and some fellow bloggers reviews. Boy, am I glad that I did. Though in retrospect, the cover makes sense, since this book also deals with eating as a compensation, and even with having one's heart eaten at (I'm not sure it was intentional though!). But the main themes are bullying/abuse, friendship, and most of all, staying true to oneself.
Jennifer and Cameron meet at Elementary school and strike up a deep friendship. They're both social outcasts, but Cameron is the one who stands up for Jennifer and tries to protect her from the constant bullying. Till one day, when they are nine, Cameron is gone without a word, and Jennifer's classmates perform a cruel joke on her, stating that Cameron is actually dead. Having lost her only friend and anchor, Jennifer feels like her real self - the Jennifer version that only Cameron loved - is dead with him, and painfully decides to "bury" it with her alleged dead friend and start anew.
Eight years after, Jennifer - now renamed "Jenna" - is a new and improved character, so to speak...slim, popular, apparently confident, with a social circle and even an equally popular boyfriend. That's precisely when Cameron comes back from the dead, calling her whole world into question. We follow Jenna since her seventeenth birthday, while she tells her present story alternated with small flashbacks from the past - particularly something that happened to her and Cameron eight years before, courtesy of his dad. There's a build-up of tension and anguish, that finally discharges into a poignant epilogue, though not quite the one we were expecting. Some have commented that it's a drop off, the way nothing actually happens in the end. I think that, in a way, much happens - because Jennifer is able to face what could have been a desperate situation, and to realize (with Cameron's help, eight years later) that she is stronger and more resourceful than she thought. Also, she finally gains a perspective of Cameron's life, and is able to understand the main reason why he's always protected her in the first place. [...]

The flashbacks are interspersed with present scenes from Jenna's life, that comes apart at the seams with the shocking comeback of her old - and very much alive - friend. Jenna realizes she's living a lie, because her real self has been reawakened by Cameron's return and claims its role back. Of course, her close circle can't grasp the meaning of their friendship, and doesn't even want either...especially her boyfriend Ethan. I have to say that Ethan's position is understandable to a point, but when he implicitly refuses to acknowledge the existence of a former Jennifer or calls his girlfriend a "moody bitch", he loses me. And her of course. But surprisingly enough, another friend of Jenna's becomes closer to her, as a result of experiencing a glimpse of her real personality.
In the end, after traveling the memory lane with Jenna, Cameron understands he has to make a choice, as painful as it may be for the two of them. That's when the book disappoints the hard-core romantic readers. But the reason why he chooses like he does, and the turn his relationship with Jenna takes from that moment on, are realistic and maybe even unavoidable.
Apart from bullying/abuse, friendship and self, this book touches a variety of subjects - from single parenting to family communication, compensatory stealing/eating, sex as a surrogate for a real human contact (well, there's nothing graphic or heavy about it tough), growing up and taking responsibilities. All packed in 217 pages...but Zarr forces us to think and wonder and make up our minds. I strongly recommend this book to adults too, especially to those who are parents. It's a lyrical, poignant experience for everyone who likes a deep and thought-provoking novel.

For quotes from this book click here.
For more Contemporary books click here.
Like this book? You might also be interested in Natalie Standiford: "How to Say Goodbye in Robot". 


  1. The fluff cover has put me off in the past too, I'm glad to hear there is more to this book than meets the eye! I really like all the issues that it covers. Will check it out :-)

    BookishTrish @ Between the Lines

    1. I think this novel is one of the strongest examples of how judging a book by its cover doesn't always work...though I suppose this particular cover has managed to attract many romance lovers and sell the book better. But on the other hand, they were bound to get disappointed because of the ending, and most of them rated it lower than it the cover backfired :(. It's a pity!


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