Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Saving June by Hannah Harrington

Title: Saving June
Author: Hannah Harrington
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication date: November 22, 2011
Rating: ★★★★½

Summary (via Goodreads):

Harper Scott’s older sister has always been the perfect one – so when June takes her own life a week before her high school graduation, sixteen-year-old Harper is devastated. Everyone’s sorry, but no one can explain why.

When her divorcing parents decide to split her sister’s ashes into his-and-her urns, Harper takes matters into her own hands. She’ll steal the ashes and drive cross-country with her best friend, Laney, to the one place June always dreamed of going – California.

Enter Jake Tolan. He’s a boy with a bad attitude, a classic-rock obsession and nothing in common with Harper’s sister. But Jake had a connection with June, and when he insists on joining them, Harper’s just desperate enough to let him. With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanour and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what she needs.

Except June wasn’t the only one hiding something. Jake’s keeping a secret that has the power to turn Harper’s life upside down – again.

The one perk of being home sick is that you have a lot of reading time. I read this book in one sitting, and it was perfect for helping me escape my stomach flu (for a couple of hours, at least). Great character development, a sophisticated exploration of family and friendship, a road trip to California, and some eclectic playlists, to boot – thank you, Hannah Harrington. I loved this book.

Saving June has a cast of complex, intelligent characters who are flawed in many ways yet still have redeeming qualities. Harper, our narrator, is something of a dark horse – tired of constantly being compared to her sister June who has recently passed away; unable to express the "right" emotions at the right times; unwilling to pander to her dysfunctional, broken family. She's dark and cynical but also extremely self-aware, which is the balance the story needs to make it still readable, rather than angsty.

Laney is Harper's best friend and so great to read about. She's very different from Harper but she's a great friend to her (and vice versa) throughout the story. There are a bunch of lovely moments between them, and their dynamic never feels false. They fight and they argue, but they also make up, and at the end of the day, they support each other and fight for each other and take care of each other and defend each other.

"You know, just because you think bubblegum pop on the radio represents all that is wrong with society, that doesn’t mean there’s not someone out there who needs that shitty pop song. Maybe that shitty pop song makes them feel good, about themselves and the world. And as long as that shitty pop song doesn’t infringe upon your rights to rock out to, I don’t know, Subway Sect, or Siouxsie and the Banshees, or whichever old-ass band it is you worship, then who cares?"

And course we can't forget Jake Tolan, the imperfect love interest. I hate to use the term "bad boy" because it's so cliché – plus, he's not really a bad boy in Saving June. He's just different from his suburban Michigan neighbors. There's a lot of things I like about Jake. I like that he's kind of a grouch but he's still sensitive and thoughtful and optimistic. I like that he comes alive when he talks about music. I like that he sings "Tears in Heaven" for Harper (but I still can't believe she's never heard that song before... I mean, really?). I like that his story is revealed slowly.

Moments like these make me want more from him than I have ever wanted from any guy – or even just another person, period.

I do wish his backstory with June were more interesting or compelling – it felt kind of trivial, when all along it was made out to be this huge life-changing secret. I also wish he didn't own a fedora (why, Hannah Harrington, just why?). But he is one of the more captivating male characters I've read in a while, so I guess I'll give him a pass... for now.

A word of warning – Saving June explores family dynamics, but things don't always get resolved. If you like everything wrapped up neatly, i's dotted and t's crossed, this may not be the book for you. Mothers don't come back, and absentee fathers don't wake up one day and realize what they've been missing. Stuff remains ambiguous here. Relationships aren't always repaired. Questions aren't always – can't always – be answered. And I'm okay with that. I hope you are too.

Saving June is a great book. It's engaging and funny and sad but never bleak. We get to explore what it means to be alive in a way that feels thoughtful and candid and, ultimately, hopeful. This is a story of imperfect people and what happens when they come together. It's about the weird things that happen on a road trip and how you never really know what you're going to get. It's about how you deal with those things, what you learn from them. It's about what you let go of and what you let in.

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