When Jenna Vaughn’s childhood sweetheart unexpectedly comes back into her life during her senior year of high school, she is forced to confront her troubled past. This is a story about the power of memory, the bond of friendship, and the quiet resilience of our childhood hearts.
The story of Jenna/Jennifer and Cameron was inspired by a friendship I had as a child with a boy, Mark, who came back into my life when we were both adults. When Mark and I got back in touch, I was surprised at what a strong bond we had despite having not seen nor heard from one another since third grade. I started asking myself—what if Mark and I had been reunited in high school? What if our lives had taken divergent paths? Would we still be loyal to each other, based on that childhood friendship, even if we wound up in different social circles and with different destinies? If so, why? What kinds of emotional and practical challenges would that bring? Though the details of what happened to Jennifer and Cameron were all made up, I did my best to be as emotionally truthful as I could with their story. I continue to be been blown away by reader response to this book, and how many people out there have Jennas and Camerons of their own.
There is a delicious kind of pain and melancholy that comes from looking back into those powerful memories of childhood. Sweethearts captures the yearning for those powerful first friendships made at a time in our lives when we are raw and real, and the story of a girl who can't let go of the ghost of her childhood sweetheart.
Zarr gives us the story of Jenna, a normal, well-adjusted high school girl by all appearances, who can't forget her only childhood friend, Cameron Quick. Bonded by their misfit status at school and a painful secret, Jenna and Cameron become constant companions and confidantes. Cameron disappears from Jenna's life suddenly, and she's told he died. Years pass, but Jenna is never able to move on. She goes through the motions of being upbeat and social, but her thoughts are on an endless loop of memories and longing that involve her lost playmate. But Cameron isn't dead. He comes for Jenna so they can face down the past together.
From, Jenna's snippets of memories, I was aware that the secret she was harboring was that Cameron was abused by his father, physically and perhaps sexually. And I was dreading these memories being recounted in detail upon Cameron's return. I didn't want to have to go through that with the character, but Zarr manages to make the reader aware that Cameron endured abuse and the impact it had upon him without graphically describing it. When Jenna asks to talk about it, Cameron simply says, "Why? We know what happened." The story isn't about abuse, nor is it about Cameron. In fact, Cameron stays a quiet enigma to the very last page. Sweethearts is about a girl coping with the loss of her friend and learning how to find the right amount of space in heart for that all-encompassing friendship while still leaving room for new ones. For a moment, I harbored hope that Cameron and Jenna would become high school sweethearts and be making out, dating and overcoming everything just to be normal teenagers. But Sweethearts isn't about fun teen romance. It's about the truest and most innocent kind of love: friendships forged in early childhood.
I loved this book from it's sorrowful tone, to the magical bond between Cameron and Jenna, to the wisdom about love that we're left with at the end of the novel. Like Cameron Quick, Sweethearts is a book I won't soon forget.