The ARC of Sara Zarr’s Sweethearts arrived at my house in an envelope containing a tiny box of crunchy, sort of tangy, red, white and pink hearts. While this kind of cutesy marketing might be greeted with indifference by some hard-nosed and snooty reviewer types, it works wonders with simple, sweet-toothed readers such as myself. Immediately, I had high hopes for this book. The best part of this sweetness is that the title of the novel reveals itself as more than a little tongue-in-cheek once you’ve read Zarr’s book, which takes a deep look at whether it’s possible to have – and to hold onto – your soul mate.
When they were young, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were not the cool kids. They didn’t care much, since they found that their friendship was more than enough to sustain them through the sometimes stormy, sometimes mundane world of early elementary school. They understood each other in the profound and mysterious way that some young kids can understand each other, without ever having to say much. Sara Zarr conveys the intensity and depth of this childhood friendship convincingly, which is crucial, given that we must believe in the power of the relationship for the rest of the novel to have any force or believability.
In fifth grade, the children experience a horrible event and Cameron disappears. Jennifer believes he has died and struggles to cope with this terrific loss. Years go by and Jennifer transforms herself into an entirely new, thinner, socially-accepted young woman, complete with boyfriend, stable family life, and a new name. Then Cameron walks back into her life and the past creeps in with him.
I think many teenagers will love this book. It’s just right the way that it shows that deep love cannot be all sweetness, that it can be founded on something challenging or secretive or even traumatic. There is real tension throughout the novel, as Zarr offers us only brief flashes of the awful event that the children experienced. We want to know the whole story, but we have to read on to learn more. This doesn’t feel manipulative since Jenna can only seem to handle thinking about what happened to her in fragments, the whole being too difficult to relive.
I think teenage girls all over the place should organize Sweethearts slumber parties where they stay up late, late into the night talking about Zarr’s book, eating too many pink cupcakes and then dreaming about their own Camerons. Swing past tomorrow, when I will share my recent interview with Sara!
Until then, read a few other reviews: