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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sweethearts, written by Sara Zarr. Little Brown, Hachette. 2008. $8.99 ages 13 and up

"By lunch, the work of being the birthday version of Jenna Vaughn started to wear on me. I'd been smiling all morning at the Happy Birthdays and the hugs and compliments while Jennifer Harris dogged me. I kept looking over my shoulder for I don't know what..."

Jennifer and Cameron are soulmates, tied together by bonds of friendship and ostracism. Both are social outcasts at school and not much caring as long as they have each other. You should know they are fifth graders when Cameron suddenly does not come back to school, and Jennifer’s mother tells her that he has died. In high school Jennifer reinvents herself and becomes Jenna, pretty, popular and perpetually perky. She is hard to recognize as the fat, unhappy whiner of her younger years. She's dating the popular guy, her mother is remarried and she has a great stepfather...she should be happy!

Jenna can't forget her ninth birthday, the day when Cameron's father does something unspeakable. Soon, Cameron is gone and her mother gives her the bad news. Now, she hates her birthday and all the memories that it evokes. From that day on, Jennifer had only herself...she was alone and lonely for her best friend. As Jenna she seeks happiness, and tries to bury the long ago feelings of love and loss. There are many times when she feels overwhelmed but she keeps those feelings at bay, always moving forward.

Then one day, she sees Cameron and her world swivels on its axis. In learning his story and facing her mother’s deceit, Jenna must come to grips with feelings hidden but not forgotten. Cameron’s arrival and subsequent departure leave her with an indelible imprint on her heart…one that doesn’t change with time and space. Don’t miss this wonderful story of friendship, love and loss, peopled with characters that matter and are memorable.

I loved this book. The characters are real and have layers, as do their relationships. Sara Zarr has delivered a story that will long live in my memory and I urge readers to find a copy and meet these wonderful characters for yourself. They are worthy of your attention. The sense of mystery about that fateful afternoon holds you right to the end. Bravo!

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