Review of “Sweethearts” by Sara Zarr

This is a sad book. Not sad in the sense of Big Tragic Event That Happens, but in the sense of the overall way things went: how the characters’ lives played out and why. This is also not to say I didn’t like it; Sara Zarr is one of my favorite YA writers, and here she ropes you in from the very first page.

Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were childhood friends who bonded because they were both Rejects with big problems that made them prey to bullies. Jennifer, daughter of a single mom who worked two jobs and was never home, stuffed her hurts and fears and anxiety back down inside her with food. Schoolmates called her “Fattifer.” To make things worse, she had a lisp. Cameron had an abusive father, and often had to skip school, presumably because of bruises or breaks. He too had a speech impediment.

No matter what they endured, however, they always had each other. Cameron made Jennifer feel “special, protected, and watched over, loved.” When still just little kids, Cameron gave Jennifer a ring and told her he loved her. Then on Jennifer’s ninth birthday, he disappeared. Kids in school said Cameron was dead, and Jennifer’s mother didn’t tell her otherwise.

Without Cameron, Jennifer knew something had to change, because she was all alone now. She learned to cope better, and practiced her speech until the lisp was gone. In the summer before seventh grade, her mom got married to a nice man, Alan, and they all moved to a different school district. Jennifer grabbed at the chance for a new identity. She changed her name to Jenna, so no one could call her “Fattifer” anymore. She lost weight and exercised and made friends. In high school, she even got a boyfriend, Ethan.

Then on her seventeenth birthday, Cameron came back.

What happens next is so touching and affecting. Both Jenna and Cameron were so damaged, and both have so much to overcome. And there is so much unfinished business between them.

Evaluation: I loved this book, as I have loved all Zarr’s books. Her characterization is excellent, and her plots are creative without resorting to the bizarre. Clearly she understands teens and the thorny issues that they face. This bittersweet tale is perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2008

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21 Responses to Review of “Sweethearts” by Sara Zarr

  1. nymeth says:

    I think the word I’d use to describe it is indeed bittersweet. But I also loved it – I need to pick up Zarr’s other books.

  2. Julie P. says:

    It is the perfect review for Valentine’s Day. I haven’t read any of Zarr’s books yet but it sounds like I’m missing out. How “clean” are these books?

    • Ha, ha, finding a clean YA book these days! Actually since this particular one is so much about bullying and friendship, it’s cleaner than most. :–) These days, it seems once you get a 17 year old girl in the picture, clean is pretty much out of the picture unless you go back to Anne of Green Gables!!!!

      • That’s very true! I am continually surprised at how bold YA novels are these days. Back in the day, when I was a young teen, it was considered a big deal that Judy Blume talked to us about menstruation and “wet dreams.” *LOL* I’m showing my age, aren’t I?

  3. Amanda says:

    I’ve only read one book by Zarr before (Story About a Girl) and really disliked it, but it seems most of her other books are very different from that one which makes me think I should give her a second chance…

  4. Kristen says:

    Wow, this sounds really good. I’ve never read anything by this author, but this sounds right up my alley.

  5. This sounds very good, though heartbreaking. I liked Story About a Girl, by this author, and I’ll look for this one.

  6. I want to read this SOOOOO BAD! First, I love the cover. Second, the girls at Forever Young Adult always talk about Cameron Quick and that’s enough of a convincer for me.

    Awesome review as per usual, Jill.

  7. Sandy says:

    *sigh* You just don’t let up! I’m off the library website, crossing my fingers.

  8. zibilee says:

    Oh, I like the sound of this book, and even though it sounds sort of sad, it also sounds like it really captures the situation between Jenna and Cameron in an excellent way. Wonderful review. I must check this out!

  9. Margot says:

    How could I resist a book titled Sweethearts on Valentine’s Day.

    I haven’t read a lot of YA so I don’t understand the “not clean” comment. Might be a good blog post by a savvy YA blogger (hint – hint). I’m interested in reading a lot more YA but I’m not sure of my way.

  10. bermudaonion says:

    After reading this, I checked my book case and I have one of Zarr’s books – not this one, but at lease I have one to start with!

  11. Melody says:

    I loved this book! And yes, I’d describe it as bittersweet too.

  12. Staci says:

    I read about this one a while back and meant to read it then…I have to now!! Your review was great 😀

  13. Trish says:

    I kind of am a sucker for sad books…though I wouldn’t want to read *JUST* sad books.

    I keep forgetting about this author–I’ve seen this one around but need to see if I can find any of her books at Half Price Books. Glad you liked it so much!!

    The cover reminds me that I forgot to make sugar cookies on Sunday for yesterday. How could I have forgotten???

  14. Meg says:

    Oh, I so love this novel! I read it years ago and just fell in love with Cameron. Seriously, he’s right up there with my Favorite Male Book Characters Of All Time (and it’s a very exclusive list). Thanks for reminding me how much I adore Sweethearts!

  15. Jenners says:

    Oh … this does sound kind of heartbreaking and involving. It makes me kind of sad just thinking of the possibilities.

  16. I’ve never read Sarah Zarr, but I think my sister has and enjoys her. Sounds like a sweet book 🙂

  17. Nicole says:

    This is the only Zarr book that I have read and it broke my heart a little bit, though I enjoyed the read.

  18. Jenny says:

    I was so sure I knew where this book was going when I started it, and I was totally wrong. I liked it that Sara Zarr was able to be surprising — I have to read more by her!

  19. Ceri says:

    I really like the sound of this book. I do love YA fiction and really don’t read enough. I’ve never tried Sara Zarr before but should definitely give this one a go. 🙂

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