Author: Sara Zarr
Release date: 2008 US
Genre: Contemporary Teen Life / Issues
Target audience: 12+
Publisher: Little, Brown
Summary from Amazon:
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.Sweethearts is a story about the power of memory, the bond of friendship, and the quiet resilience of our childhood hearts.
Sweethearts is not a cute read as you might imagine from the title. It is actually a really deep story of friendship, self-perception, bullying and family life. Jennifer Harris has only one friend at school and his name is Cameron Quick. At nine years old they depend on each other for survival as two kids that are outcast from their school group. Jennifer is labelled as "Fattifer" the smelly, overweight kid. Her mum works long hours and is studying to get her nursing degree which means Jennifer is often left alone to fend for herself. Cameron's life is more brutally traumatic but this only becomes apparent as their story slowly unravels. One day Cameron just does not come back to school. There is no goodbye, no note, no explanation. He just disappears from her life and Jennifer is distraught. The other children revel in telling her cruel things and convince her that he has died. So that day Jennifer dies too. She shuts away her true self and becomes another person - Jenna Vaughn. Her mother marries a lovely man - Alan. He is a shining beacon of hope in Jenna's world and a character that warms your heart. They move house, Jenna goes to Jones Hall (a school for non-Mormon kids) and she begins a new life as an entirely different person.
Eight years after Cameron disappears, Jenna embodies a typical teen life. She has a boyfriend - Ethan - and they have been going out for three months. She has two close girl friends - Steph and Katy - but they know nothing of the person she once was. Jenna tries to hold on to all her memories of Cameron but many slip away. Sadly, there is one memory that haunts her. A memory that she has never shared with anyone. It seems to weigh on her even after all the time gone by and the death of Jennifer Harris. Jenna certainly fears being unmasked as a fraud and still hears the taunts of the bullies in her mind. She also fears her birthday which signifies everything that she wants to forget. But as her seventeenth birthday comes to a close, it becomes apparent that Cameron is back from the dead. He leaves a birthday card in her mailbox which causes Jenna to revaluate everything she thought she knew.
Jenna is a complex and troubled character who habours resentment towards her mother for never being there during the worst time in her life. She has a very negative self-perception and imagines that she never really became Jenna Vaughn and that the friendships she has will be so quickly erased. Cameron is an enigma. He is often silent and withdrawn. As the reader, we only experience a tiny piece of the truth of what happened to him in his eight year absence. Yhe pieces of the puzzle that are revealed made me weep from deep inside. The questions I was left with over what would happen in his future are the reason I cried when I finished the book.
Sweethearts is a story about love but don't read it if you are looking for a fairytale. This story is punctuated with brutality, lies and painful memories which are all startlingly conveyed by the author. Sometimes love is the most painful of all emotions and thus Sweethearts is anything but sugary. You should however read it if you like emotive stories which take you into the heart of a character and show you the truth of who they really are. It really is a meaningful book.