Needless to say, I was blown away. That's why, when I was given the opportunity to join a book club that would be discussing Sweethearts- another work by this author, I knew I had to jump on it. In fact, I loved it so much, I promptly read my ARC of her upcoming book The Lucy Variations, as well as the two other novels I hadn't read yet.
Sweethearts, like all of her novels, places a strong focus on identity. Jenna, (formerly known as Jennifer) has put a lot of effort into re-inventing herself. Gone is the fat, bullied outcast Jennifer from her Elementary School days, and in her place is Jenna- a slim, fashion conscious, popular high school senior. Jenna has everything going for her. She's got a couple of close gal pals, she's dating one of the hottest guys in school, and she's everything Jennifer wasn't.
When her childhood best friend Cameron suddenly reappears in her life after disappearing without a trace years before, Jenna is conflicted. Seeing him digs up the past she's worked so hard at burying, but it also reminds her of what it feels like to have someone in your life that knows you inside out, and loves you for who you are- not just who everyone thinks you should be.
Identity and belonging are a recurring theme in Sara Zarr's novels, and her heroines struggle with their perceived and their real selves. This is an idea that really speaks to me, and I'm sure to her readers as well. How often do people make judgments about us based on a single act- and how it seems indelibly tethered to us no matter what we do. Jenna is a mask. A carefully constructed mask that keeps anyone from knowing who Jenna actually is. But wearing that mask is lonely, and what Cameron's reappearance in her life makes her realize is that Jenna, for everything she seemingly has, is intensely lonely. Whether or not she and Cameron can or will be together is irrelevant. What matters is that he makes her reconsider her world and herself, and realize that she can be strong without the mask.
One of Zarr's novels, titled Once Was Lost (re-titled What We Lost), most aptly describes her heroines. From Jenna to Lucy (in Lucy Variations) to Jill and Mandy (in How to Save a Life), they are all a little bit lost, and they all, in their own way are saved (not necessarily by a guy). They are simply trying to find their places in the world, and the journey isn't an easy one. It means a lot of bumps along the way, a lot of pain, and a lot of self-discovery and introspection, but these girls do survive, and they carve out a life for themselves in the best way they can. There are no guarantees that they will live happily ever after, but there is hope that they will, and that, along with beautiful writing, is what makes her stories so compelling to read.