Photo by Natalia Balcerska Photography
Frustrated by the way her mother and aunt are dealing with the suicide of her sister June, Harper Scott and her best friend Laney plot to steal June's ashes and scatter them in California, where June dreamed of attending university. Jake Tolan's exact connection to June is a mystery, and he is annoyingly reluctant to share what he knows about June's last days, but he has a van, and is willing to risk getting into serious trouble. Against their better judgement, Harper and Laney agree to make the road trip with Jake.
I would describe Saving June as like an edgier Sarah Dessen novel. Harper's recent bereavement is the backbone of the story and of the characters' development, though there are other elements in the mix - music, sex, and a little politics. Music is particularly important, though apart from in a couple of mix-related places, it's not as vital to this story as it is in some other recent YA books, eg. If I Stay. Music in Saving June mostly just provides atmosphere, or a clue to character personalities.
This is very much a coming-of-age story, focusing on the way in which the three of them change and grow over the course of the road trip. There isn't a lot of plot, and although the characters were interesting and I enjoyed seeing their personal journeys, sometimes I wished for some external action to speed things up a bit. Not all Harper's family relationship issues are resolved, but I didn't have a massive problem with this - not everybody needs or wants to be close with and completely understood by their family.
I did find it a bit difficult to visualise the journey, but then I've never road-tripped in the USA, and I'm far from expert on international geography. The only thing I found really unconvincing is that although their primary goal is to get to California before they get caught, the group make a few detours without much conflict. It's small but I expected there to be some big arguments over this!
I would definitely recommend Saving June to fans of road trip novels and musical references - these are practically YA subgenres these days! I think Laney was my favourite character, and I find friendship dynamics really interesting. If Hannah Harrington writes another book, I would be especially keen to read it if it focused on a friendship.
There is more I could say about Saving June, but it would involve spoilers! If you've read Saving June and are desperate to discuss it in more detail, feel free to send me an e-mail - juliannelefay(at)gmail.com.