Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Book Review: Sweethearts

Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl (review here) was one of my favorite Young Adult novels of 2007. Now Zarr is back with her second book, Sweethearts (out February 1), and it is even better than her first.

Now that we're working with a second novel, we can talk about what's so wonderful about Zarr's writing: straightforward prose, emotional honesty, and fully drawn characters make Zarr's Young Adult novels stand out from the pack.

Sweethearts begins with the following premise: What if your childhood best friend--in fact, your only friend--disappears without saying goodbye. Shortly thereafter you hear a rumor at school that he--Cameron Quick--has died, a rumor your own mother confirms. Jennifer Harris suffers from her best friend's disappearance so much that by high school she has turned herself into an entirely different person.

True, other changes in Jennifer's life have contributed to her metamorphosis. She acquires a kind stepfather named Alan, switches schools, and gets her eating habits under control. In addition, her mother--who was so busy finishing nursing school and working at a diner when Jennifer was in elementary school--is now gainfully employed in a professional career and working semi-regular hours. Life is good for the now teenage Jenna. She's updated her name, is popular and thin, and even has a cute boyfriend.

And then Cameron Quick walks back into her life.

Cameron's reappearance causes Jenna to reexamine her current life and her past. Are her new friends as real and true as Cameron was? Do they accept her for who she really is? Why did Cameron leave and why is he back? Does he remember what happened with his father on Jenna's 9th birthday?

Sweethearts is about confronting your past and learning from it. Jenna, Cameron, Jenna's mother and stepfather, and some of Jenna's new friends are complex characters who make difficult and honest decisions. Sweethearts isn't a novel that operates on YA cliches--you won't know ahead of time how Jenna will come to terms with her past, present, and future. You won't be able to guess how her friends will behave and react to Jenna's situation. Even Jenna's parents are drawn with a finely-tipped brush, acting as people, not stereotypes, do.

Sweethearts is Young Adult fiction at its very best. Zarr has crafted an original and compelling story enhanced by unflinching emotional honesty and characters worth your time and care.

Don't miss Sweethearts.
Other blog reviews:

The Page Flipper
Jen Robinson's Book Page
The Well-Read Child
Young Adult (&Kids) Book Central
Bookshop Girl
Kate Messner
Charlotte's Library
Teen Book Review
A Patchwork of Books
Kids Lit
Shelf Elf (just posted!)

If I've missed your review, please let me know.
Sara's on a blog tour at the moment and will stop by here next week. I'll have a roundup of the interviews for you at that time.