Review: Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

April 22, 2013 / 12 Comments / Review, Uncategorized

Author: Sara Zarr

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover, 217 pages
Source: Toronto Public Library
Publication Date: February 1st 2008 
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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.


[I read this for the Toronto Forever Young Adult Book Club‘s April meeting which is happening this week!]

I expected to like Sweethearts a lot. I thought it would be a super-cute romance. But it’s an hour after reading, and I’m in shock. This is a book that delves much deeper than romance. It’s a book that stays with you and demands that you think about it afterwards.

It’s very hard for me to tell you much of what happens in Sweethearts without spoiling things, but suffice to say that each and every character, from Jenna to Cameron to Estelle the fish has an important role to play in this novel – and none of them are archetypes. They’re all so real and so complex that I feel bad for even thinking that I disliked some of the characters. Because even the ones who made mistakes are just learning about themselves and trying to figure things out in a really imperfect world.

Zarr’s writing is skillful and perfect. Every single word was chosen with care. Every image was nuanced and rendered perfectly, without cliche. The writing was so seamless and the characters so real and the plotting so neatly done that I barely noticed that I was reading. I was there with Jenna and Cameron – in fact, I really felt I was Jenna.

Reading Sweethearts was one of the most bittersweet moments I’ve had reading YA. Having had friends that hold special places in my heart at very particular moments of my life, I felt very close to Jenna. I know how it feels to lose a friend who meant a lot. I know how it feels to try to contact them without a response back. I know how it feels to have to try to put that behind you. And believe me, I’m still trying.

There are people who stay with you for the rest of your life, and then there are the books that describe those people. Sweethearts is a book that I won’t soon forget.

Spoilery Discussion

(Instead of Bonuses, today you get…more review/discussion with SPOILERS! Because I really, really have to talk about a few things)

What I thought was really interesting about this book was that there were no easy answers to anything. The helplessness of the situation that Cameron’s in, and how Jenna and her mother and Alan were struggling to try to sort things out…that was, for me, the hardest and most rewarding part of the book.  I’m still asking myself the questions that Jenna and her parents asked: whose responsibility is it to take care of a person who is legally able to take care of himself, but doesn’t want help when he needs it? Was Cameron a good or bad friend? Was he more? Was he less?

I also liked that there wasn’t an easy answer to who Jenna was in the end. She didn’t necessarily revert back to being Jennifer after Cameron left. I liked that the parts of her that were Jenna – that she thought were strong and not really herself – were just another part of her personality that she was owning by the end.

By the way, in the back of my library copy, a couple of teens jotted down some of their thoughts. I’m not usually a fan of people defacing library books, but I thought this was worth sharing.

Click to view larger version


End of Spoilers

The Final Word

This is one of the most moving, and deeply frustrating books I’ve ever read. I’m at a loss for words because Sweethearts is what contemporary YA is all about to me – the magic of true love, and that bittersweet, not-perfect world feeling of a people painfully changing and uncovering what matters about themselves and the world.

Have you read SWEETHEARTS or any other Sara Zarr novel? What did you think? Are you a realistic fiction lover? If not, why not and what genre you prefer reading? 

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12 responses to “Review: Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

  1. I've read this book last year. I have to agree with you. It was far from an easy light romance read! Until now, whenever I think of Jen and Cameron, my heart still aches for them. And oh, I'm a realistic fiction lover! 😉 Great review!

    • Aww, so glad there are others out there who love realistic fiction as much as I do.

      I'm…still not over this book. Pretty sure I dreamed about it last night.

  2. The cover of this book really makes me want a cookie…

    I'm usually not a fan of people writing in library books either but I love that these teens really wanted to communicate their thoughts on the book. Hooray for talking about books!

    • I loved how much these teens were affected by the book, too. It was like they HAD to share.

      The cover is SO misleading. It makes it look like this super-cute, fun, light romance…NO. This is a pretty serious book.

  3. I love that teens wrote down their thoughts on the book! It's such a great idea (even though I cringe when I think about writing in a book). The cover is misleading, I thought this would be fun and light-hearted. Now I must read this and see what it's all about.

  4. Wow, I hadn't heard of this but now I want to check it out! I love realistic fiction for YA. I think it's great for teens as long as the issues are dealt with, well, realistically. Thanks for the review! I love finding new books!

  5. I have picked this one up off of the library stacks several times, read the synopsis and ended up putting it back. Yours is the first review that I have read for it. And I think the next time I go to the library, I will bring this home with me. I like that it isn't just a cutesy novel. There are a lot of those. I like the ones with some depth and emotion, with very real characters!

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