Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book Review: Saving June, by Hannah Harrington

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)

Friday, October 05, 2012

Book Review: That Summer, by Sarah Dessen

Photo by Jason Sturner

Haven has two weddings to attend, and she is not happy about either of them. The book opens as her sports news presenter father is marrying his colleague, meterologist Lorna Queen, and her sister Ashley is planning her wedding, which will take place at the end of the summer. Haven's mother has devoted herself to her garden, and Haven is worried about how quiet the house will become. Then Ashley's ex-boyfriend Sumner Lee returns to town, reminding Haven of a summer a few years before, when her parents were still together and she and Ashley were closer, when she was happier and everything felt more secure. Haven starts to spend more time with Sumner, but everything is not as it seems.

Sumner is a very intriguing character, offbeat and charming, and I thought that Haven's love/hate relationship with her sister was very well described - Ashley is self-assured but also frequently irritating and her motives and decisions are as unclear to us as they are to Haven. I was also really drawn into the side-stories with Haven's best friend, Casey, and the Lakeview Mall Models.

I liked that Sarah Dessen makes you think the book is about one thing, but it turns out to be about something quite different. However, I thought that the execution was a bit muddled. I can see how some readers have been disappointed, especially after reading her later novels. It's not that That Summer is bad, but as teen novels go, it's quite average, and in comparison to Last Chance, the first Sarah Dessen book that I read, it lacks spark and flows awkwardly. Haven is quite a passive character for much of the book - she goes along with everything that happens and doesn't ask for explanations - and it seemed to take a very long time for events to build towards a conclusion and for Haven to get angry and find out the truth.

It's interesting to see where Sarah Dessen started, but I didn't enjoy it as much as Last Chance. I would still recommend That Summer, though if you've never read any Sarah Dessen books before it's probably best to start with one of her more popular titles. I'm looking forward to reading more of her later novels, particularly Just Listen, which so many bloggers have loved.


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