I bought three more Sara Zarr books immediately after finishing [b:How to Save a Life|10757806|How to Save a Life|Sara Zarr|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1337211222s/10757806.jpg|14982110] - this being one of them. Her writing spoke to me like a Marchetta novel does, although her stories seem sadder. I saved them for when I craved something emotionally distressing to read, but unfortunately, this didn't quite hit the right buttons.
[b:Sweethearts|2020935|Sweethearts|Sara Zarr|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1336053590s/2020935.jpg|2799404] was the story of Jennifer and Cameron, childhood best friends who were separated after a tragic event. Jennifer was the kid whom no one wanted to hang out with. Her mom was a single mother who worked long hours and went to nursing school at night, leaving her on her own most of the time. As a result, she didn't always have clean clothes, didn't always eat right and didn't always behave. She shoplifts, steals food, and binge-eats when she feels sad. She often gets bullied at school and had no friends until Cameron befriends her. They had each other, and it didn't matter that they didn't have any other friends. But Cameron was harboring a secret. He'd often miss school, or come to school silent, and a few days later he'd come around and act his normal self as if nothing happened.
One absence turned out longer than usual and Jennifer started to worry about him, especially after they had a shared experience which led to her finding out his secret. At first she thought that he moved away and just didn't say goodbye, but the bullies at school told her that he died. None of her teachers or even her mom denied this, and so she believed that Cameron was truly dead. After that, she mourned him and buried herself along with her memories of him.
Fast forward to eight years later, Jennifer Harris is now Jenna Vaughn. She's no longer the overweight kid who had no friends. After her mom started working as a nurse and remarried, they moved to a nicer neighborhood. Jenna switched schools and was able to reinvent herself. She was a popular kid who did well in school, had a group of friends and a cute boyfriend. Life was steady and good until her 17th birthday when she unexpectedly receives a letter from Cameron saying that he was back.
There were parallels between this and HtSaL. I particularly thought that Zarr uses the mother-daughter relationship subplot quite effectively. They're neither close nor are they enemies, but there's a level of discomfort and a need to sweep things under the rug rather than confront each other. At first glance the main issue seems to be about Cameron - why he disappeared, what happened to him in the years between and why he's back. But the discovery to be made is really about Jenna and the effect Cameron's leaving had on her. When he came back, her life was turned upside down and memories started flooding back. Feelings of hurt, confusion and abandonment resurfaced and these made her question her relationship with her mom, her friends, her boyfriend and even how she views herself.
I easily connected to Jenna but had trouble understanding Cameron. I appreciated that he was not made to look like a pitiful character despite traumatic events in his life but in the end, I felt that the unfinished business remained unfinished. For instance, he said that he came back for Jenna. Okay, and then what? I didn't feel that there was any ploy to pull what they had in the romantic direction (like in [b:Eleanor & Park|15745753|Eleanor & Park|Rainbow Rowell|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1341952742s/15745753.jpg|17225055]) but I also didn't understand what he wanted to achieve in terms of their relationship. I liked that he was an independent man-child who genuinely loved Jenna and was concerned about how his presence affected her life. Jenna, on the other hand, appeared like a shallow teen who was mainly concerned about pleasing others. She may not be a victim of abuse like Cameron was, but she was also a victim - a victim of neglect. I've learned that they too can have equal or greater lasting scars only they're not as obvious because you can't see the consequences physically.
Despite falling short of resolutions I still enjoyed this book in its entirety. I LOVED the writing. It didn't have the emotional pull that I was looking for but I still loved reading about the closeness between Jenna and Cameron. This would be one of the few instances where I think a sequel/companion novel (in a future setting) would be a good idea. I wouldn't mind if it were to be in Cameron's POV either.