Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
Publication Date: February 1, 2008
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Target audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: childhood friendships, first love, growing up, emancipation
Format read: Bought a signed copy at TLA.
Summary: Jenna’s life is happily trucking along until her assumed-to-be-dead childhood best friend, Cameron Quick, enrolls at her school and causes memories and unanswered questions to overwhelm her.
Every once in a while, a book comes along that’s so different and beautifully written that it sweeps me off my feet and makes me ignore my husband until I’ve completely absorbed it. Sweethearts was just that for me.
If you think back to your childhood, do you have friends that stick out to you that maybe you wish you were still in contact with today? I’m fairly lucky that I’m still friends with a lot from my childhood, but Jenna feels the void of her missing friend Cameron Quick. These two were inseparable as kids – two social outcasts who had no other friends – until one day, when Jenna was nine, Cameron quits showing up to school. He disappears.
Rumors fly around school that Cameron has died. Jenna is forced to believe this is true because her mom does nothing to deny the lie. For eight years, Jenna goes through a transformation: switching schools, moving houses, and becoming a stronger person. Things are going along just fine until Cameron enrolls in her school.
When I imagine the scene where Jenna first sees Cameron, I can’t help but imagine how I would have reacted. I probably would have fallen out of my chair. Jenna and Cameron quietly and privately reconnect. She is filled with lots of questions she wants answered. He’s reluctant to tell her what she wants to hear because there’s something they’re both burying – an event that occurred shortly before his disappearance. Jenna becomes a confused mess – her relationship with Ethan (her boyfriend) becomes disastrous and she withdraws from everyone, needing time to figure things out on her own without the influence of her friends.
Jenna feels as if she’s completely reinvented herself since Cameron left. She never wanted to be called names for being overweight or too sensitive without Cameron by her side. (In fact, Cameron knows her as Jennifer. Jenna is what she calls herself when she switches schools.) She is conflicted because she feels Cameron is the only person who knows the “true” her. Will her friends accept her if they know her secrets and what she used to be like? A sub-plot is Jenna’s relationship with her mother, who for much of her childhood was absent as she worked and put herself through school. Cameron’s appearance forces Jenna to be honest with her mom about the past, about what happened.
My biggest takeaway was from Cameron’s reintroduction into Jenna’s life. Their story is about love and what it can mean to love someone who makes such a profound impact on our lives, even at such a young age. To love even from a distance. To continue to love when the truth surfaces, when life changes us. Jenna and Cameron’s teenage friendship is much more complicated than their childhood one, but I loved seeing two old friends pick back up where they left off.
Sara Zarr is absolutely one of my favorite authors. If you’re looking for a gripping story that is sure to capture your attention, pick up Sweethearts (or any of Sara’s books for that matter).