At the age of nine, social outcasts Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick are best friends. What begins as a companionship of necessity soon becomes an inseparable bond. Cameron is Jennifer’s only friend, the one person who understands her. Until she goes over to Cam’s house the first time, and sees what his life at home is really like. Until he disappears. Until a kid at school tells Jennifer that Cameron is dead. Until she goes home crying and tells her mother… who doesn’t contradict her.
Eight years later, Jennifer Harris is dead too, reincarnated as Jenna Vaughn- pretty, popular, dating, and happy. Cameron Quick has been an overwhelming presence in her memory, but that’s all he is to her. A memory. Impossible to let go of, but hard to recall entirely, also. Until, that is, a very much alive Cameron re-enters Jenna’s life, intent on resolving the unfinished business between them.
I’ve long held a fascination with the concept of childhood sweethearts. It’s one of the few clichés that never gets old with me (be honest, you know you love some of them too). Admittedly, there are personal reasons for my fixation with kid romance, but I also just think there’s something pure and sweet about love existing before hormones. Plus, come on, it’s adorable. So that is why I initially picked this story up. But while Sweethearts is not the fluffy romance I was expecting, it did not disappoint me in the slightest. Upon turning the last page, I was surprised and refreshed and longing for more.
Sara Zarr has some serious skills in the areas of dialogue and imagery. The descriptions are astute, well-worded, and downright pretty without ever being ornate. Above all, it is fluid and continuous; the words never become stilted or awkward. Zarr’s prose does an excellent job of moving the story foreword; despite the fact that the plot is simple and not incredibly fast-paced, I read this book in one sitting and never felt compelled to put it down.
I’m a character girl, and I had mixed feelings about the cast of Sweethearts. Jenna and Cameron are both incredibly well-developed, but most of the supporting characters were two-dimensional at best. Jenna’s friends and family were entertaining and for the most part likable (or dislikable, depending on which they were meant to be), but they fell a little flat to me. But the best fiction teacher I’ve ever had once said that you only need two characters to make a story, and Jenna and Cameron are characters in the best sense of the word. The supporting cast just could have been a little bit deeper, especially considering how often they appear in the book.
Sweethearts is not a romance, but it is very much a love story. The poignant, beautiful, frustrating thing about Cameron and Jenna’s connection (for both characters as well as for the reader) is that it is too much. It’s the kind of love that no “relationship” can fulfill. Being friends is not enough, being like brother and sister is not enough, and being together wouldn’t be enough either. It’s incomplete; paradoxically overwhelming and insufficient.
Reading the book has a similar effect on me. It’s unfinished business. I flipped the last page both longing for more and feeling completely overwhelmed. That had something to do with the frustratingly open ending, but it was more the book as a whole. I had a lot to read, but I didn’t want to leave the world of Jenna and Cameron for anyone else’s- I was too wrapped up to move on. I wanted more of the story. I literally sat in my room and thought about the characters and what happened to them and what continues to happen to them for hours. And that’s why I wrote this review. I haven’t written one in quite some time, not because I haven’t been reading or because I haven’t read anything worth reviewing, but because I have not been this caught up in a book in a very long time.
4.5 cups for Sweethearts.