Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr is a young adult novel about a girl, Jenna (aka Jennifer) Vaughn and her best friend Cameron Quick.  In grade school the two were inseparable.  Then one day, Cameron doesn’t come to school and Jenna is left alone to face the often vicious world of her peers.

When Jenna buries her friend, she buries a part of herself and that part eventually must be healed.  But on the surface things seem okay.  She is surrounded by friends and even has a boyfriend.  Her home life has also improved with her mother not juggling two jobs and a step-father who is obviously sympathetic.  New school.  New life.  New outlook.  What can possibly go wrong.

The first person narrator, Jenna, is a good choice for this novel but I think it may be limiting.  While it allowed Jenna’s insecurities to shine forth, it left every other character in the novel as they were–two dimensional and unchanging. The strength of the novel lies in its focus of Jenna’s past and how it informs her present.  Full of doubts, she finds it hard to believe she’s come so far and it is not until she sees herself through the eyes of others that she begins to see her own strength.

Is this a message we necessarily want our daughters to read?  I don’t know.  A part of me would like to say that self-identity must be deeply rooted in the self because people come and go, as Cameron proves early on in the book.  But as an adult I also know that external validation can help uproot poor self-image as well as plant seeds of greater self-worth.  Jenna is certainly not alone in needing to see her strength reflected for it to be appreciated.

Had this novel been peopled with other characters that evolved and learned, that changed and became more actualized on the page, I’d probably have liked it.  Unfortunately, Jenna cannot see inside the heart and soul of others and it almost seems as though her narcissistic insecurities prohibit her from seeing anyone but herself as three dimensional.  If this is who she is as a person, as a character, then that hardly makes her sympathetic or even likable.  My guess, however, is that this is a weakness on the author’s part and that she didn’t know how to write a first-person story that allowed anyone else to be more than what they were the first moment they walked onto the page.

I will, however, say this: I liked the ending.  It fit the novel perfectly and Zarr didn’t go for the neat and nice conclusion that belies real life.

This book is one of the three chosen by Iggi & Gabi.  As with Tangled, I would never have chosen to read this novel.  After having read the former, I had high expectations for this one and that may have precluded my fully appreciating it as it certainly pales by comparison.  There is a third novel chosen and I will review it as soon as I read it.

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