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.
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2008