Tuesday, May 17, 2011

REVIEW: Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

As children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They were also each other's only friend. SO when Cameron disappeared without warning, Jennifer thought she'd lost the one person who would ever understand her. Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed. Known as Jenna, she is 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 both are confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken.

Sweethearts is a story about the power of memory, the bond of friendship, and the quiet resilience of our childhood hearts.

I should start by saying that Sweethearts by Sara Zarr is nothing at all like I'd expected. I'd read few reviews of this book before I'd read it and the synopsis of the book really didn't tell me very much. I admit, from the cover and the brief bit of information that I knew about Sweethearts, I bought it and started it thinking that this book would be a sweet little story about first love.

It's very different and a lot more complicated than that though. As children, Jennifer and Cameron are very close. The only friends either of them had as each just doesn't fit in with the other students. We see this close friendship through flashback memories that seem to revolve around a pivotal event. It was a bit of a mystery at first, uncovering the details of this significant and emotional event that Jennifer and Cameron shared as children. What unfolds turns out to be very disturbing and sad, and very soon afterwards, Cameron leaves Jennifer's life.

In Cameron's absense, which Jennifer finds quite difficult, she transforms herself into a new person. She sheds pounds and forces herself into socialising with other girls her own age. She changes her name to Jenna and moves schools to cement this new version of herself. And as Jenna, she seems to succeed. She hangs with a popular crowd and has a gorgeous boyfriend, Ethan. But when Cameron enters Jenna's life again, Jenna seems to reconnect very easily with the old Jennifer. Turning towards binge eating in order to deal with the overwhelming emotions at meeting her childhood friend again and reliving the events that led him to leave so suddenly all those years ago.

I think Jenna's struggles between who she is now and who she was as Jennifer was very interesting to watch. She's very conscious of what people think of her and years of bullying and name-calling in her childhood means that the voices of people calling her 'Fattifer' and giving her awful looks and avoiding her have stayed with Jenna and become a part of her even though her social standing is quite different now. Also, the sort of tenuous and fragile relationship between Jenna and her mother was fascinating. Left to her own devices throughout most of her childhood, Jenna has quite a few anger and resentment issues that she's never mentioned to her mother before.

It's a very interesting story, Sweethearts. It really shows the strength of friendship between Jennifer and Cameron and how the memories of past events change and shape us. It's quite a slim little book, but it really packs a punch. Just don't go into it thinking that Sweethearts is really light and fluffy reading, because it really isn't.


  1. I loved this book. Sara Zarr is a bit of a genius. Have you read STORY OF A GIRL yet?

  2. Really interesting review, I think I could easily have missed this book but now I'll definitely give it a go.

  3. Thank you for the wonderful review. I've had this book on my wishlist for ages and I want to read it even more now. I love Sara Zarr's writing so much!

  4. Darn! Another book to go on my wishlist. Thanks!

  5. This was a lovely review, made me want to read it!

  6. I really liked this one.

    Shame the cover gives the wrong idea about the book, and would stop even the most open-minded teenage boy from been seen anywhere near it!

  7. Another one youve made me want to read Michelle! I may have to stop reading your reviews! ;) lol x

  8. It is really not a light fluffy read -- that was my expectation when I went into this book too, and I was delighted to find it was much more than that. I love it when authors can make teen high school books relevant and surprising and not all John Hughesy (and I say this with all the love in the world for John Hughes).

  9. Cat - I'm an instant fan of Sara Zarr's already! Since reading Sweethearts, I've just ordered Once Was Lost and have Story of a Girl as my highest priority on my wishlist!

    Jenni - It's the cover, isn't it? Which is a shame as it's really quite good.

    Luisa - This was my first experience with her writing, but she's always just seemed like an author that I would enjoy reading!

    Vivienne - Sorry! But it is worth it :)

    Cliona - Oh thanks for saying so :) I hope you manage to find a copy it and enjoy it as much as I did.

    Darren - I think you're right, it is a shame. Especially as I felt that both boys and girls would enjoy this book.

    Raimy - Oh no, I'm really sorry! :)

    Jenny - I'm a big fan of John Hughes at all, but I did really enjoy the grit and realistic feeling of life in high school. I could definitely relate.

  10. The cover deceived me, too. I liked the book, but it wasn't exactly the sweet story I was expecting.

  11. I agree Charley, that cover is something else. I'm kind of glad though, I might not have picked up a book by Sara Zarr otherwise - I've just ordered one of her other books on the strength of Sweethearts.


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