Book Review: Sweethearts
By: Sara Zarr
Narrated By: Sara Zarr
Published By: Listening Library
Publication Date: August 2008
Length: 5 hours, 49 minutes
Audience: YA - Contemporary, Tough Issues
On the Writing & Story:
The cover of this one is so misleading. I went into it expecting some tough issues - it wouldn't be a Sara Zarr book if it didn't tackle some heavy stuff - but I honestly thought it was going to focus on the romance more than anything else. I was so wrong. This book mainly focuses on the lingering effects of abuse and neglect. The cover looks like its going to be something sweet and easy to read, but this one was really difficult for me and left me feeling depressed and angry. I know that a lot of teens don't have easy lives and they have problems that I could never even imagine, but reading about them takes a lot out of me. I suppose I should remember that next time I pick up one of Zarr's books. I appreciate that she sheds light on some really difficult topics, but I need to be sure that I am in the appropriate frame of mind to handle them. This is not a book you should read when you are feeling gloomy. However, it is a testament to Zarr's writing ability that this book effected me emotionally.
Sweethearts is the story of childhood friends, Jenna and Cameron. Jenna used to be Jennifer Harris back in elementary school when she was the overweight kid with no friends, but somehow Cameron Quick was able to see past everything. Jenna and Cameron became fast friends and together they kept the hurtful world at bay. However, one afternoon, their lives are altered in a way that will tear the two of them apart and leave Jenna alone to fend for herself in a school setting filled with ridicule and cruelty. I don't want to spoil anything about Jenna and Cameron's relationship so I won't say anything further on that topic.
Reading about Jenna's issues in school as a young kid was heartbreaking. I wasn't the most popular kid in school - I preferred books to actual people - but I never had to endure things that Jenna experienced. The other students teased her about her weight and her family's lack of money. I hate seeing how easily kids can turn on one another. I appreciate when authors call attention to the issue of bullying and its lingering, damaging effects. The experiences of Jenna's younger school years will haunt her for the rest of her life and eat away at her fragile self esteem. She also experiences an eating disorder and finds herself obsessed with staying in shape as a teen. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, but Jenna seems to take things to the extreme.
I recommend Sweethearts to fans of contemporary YA and those who enjoy reading fiction about tough issues. This book contains elements of abuse, neglect, low self esteem, bullying, and food obsession.
On the Audio:
This is the second of Zarr's books that I have listened to on audio. She was the narrator for both of them. I do enjoy when the author is the narrator. Who knows how the characters should sound better than the person that created them? However, I found listening to this one was more difficult than listening to Story of a Girl. Zarr read this book pretty much the same way she read the other. There was nothing unique that would make the audio of this one better than the print version. I felt like I was hearing the same character from the other novel since the voice was exactly the same. Zarr also read this with such a doom and gloom tone that it was hard to see anything positive happening for Jenna or Cameron. I do love Zarr's work, but I think in the future I will opt for print over audio.
One Last Gripe: I was bummed that this one didn't end the way I wanted it to. I know life doesn't always have a happy ending - so the conclusion was realistic - but I wanted to walk away from this one with a sense of closure. That didn't really happen.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: Jenna's relationship with her stepfather - I really liked the dynamic of these two
First Sentence: A dripping faucet.
Favorite Character: Jenna
Least Favorite Character: Katie
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.
From the National Book Award nominated author of Story of a Girl, Sweethearts is a story about the power of memory, the bond of friendship, and the quiet resilience of our childhood hearts.