Heartbreaking is the word that most sums up this book for me. Heartbreaking and beautiful. I loved the storyline, loved the characters...it all came together rather perfectly for me.
Sweethearts is the story of a girl called Jennifer Harris and a boy named Cameron Quick. As children they are the best of friends. Both unpopular outcasts who are teased and bullied by the other children, the two share a very deep friendship but then Cameron disappears off the face of the Earth leaving Jennifer devastated. The other children at school tell Jennifer that Cameron has died and with no evidence to refute this, Jennifer tries to come to terms with losing the most important person in her life.
Years pass and Jennifer is now Jenna Vaughn (having changed her surname after her mother marries, she also decided to lose the Jennifer). She has re-invented herself, shedding all the excess weight she carried in her youth, and forcing herself to appear happy and social. She even has a boyfriend for the first time in her life. Yet Jenna still feels an emptiness inside. It is on her 17th birthday that Cameron Quick re-appears and throws her world into chaos.
I absolutely adored Cameron Quick - sad, damaged, beautiful boy that he was. My heart ached for his situation. Jenna was a harder character to relate to, given that she spent much of the story pretending, with her friends, her family, her boyfriend...but never Cameron. These two characters, despite all the years they have spent apart, share a bond so deep that nothing else compares. It is not a love story as such, even though they clearly love each other, their connection goes deeper than simple romantic love. You root for a happy ending for these two broken souls, but to be honest, it feels more real that there is not a happily ever after in the cards for them. Sometimes in life you meet people that you feel so strongly about they are like an extension of yourself but these types of relationships are difficult to maintain. Quite often life intrudes and people drift apart no matter how much they mean to each other.
Coming in at only 217 pages, the story nevertheless packed a punch. there were parts of the story that were so gut-wrenching, it was a struggle to get through but I am glad I persevered through the harder to deal with parts. It is not a hopeless story though, for all its bleak issues such as abuse, bullying, neglect etc. The ending is not sunshine and bunnies but there is hope for the characters. It is left open to interpretation. This was my first Sara Zarr novel and it will certainly not be my last.