Buy from Amazon • Buy from Barnes & Noble • Published by Harlequin Teen on November 22, 2011
Genres: YA Contemporary
Source: finished copy from the publisher
Harper Scott's older sister, June, took her own life a week before high school graduation, leaving Harper devastated. So when her divorcing parents decide to split up June's ashes, Harper steals the urn and takes off cross-country with her best friend, Laney, to the one place June always dreamed of going--California.
Enter Jake Tolan, a boy with a bad attitude, a classic-rock obsession... and an unknown connection to June. When he insists on joining them, Harper's just desperate enough to her him. With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanor and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what Harper needs. Except... Jake's keeping a secret that has the power to turn her life upside down--again.
Frankly, I’d never thought twice about Saving June before a copy of it showed up in my mailbox without warning. I get picky about which “family member dies and main character” stories I read because there are very few gems among the many stories along those lines. I wasn’t sure Saving June would be a gem, but a few days and 322 pages later, I happily proclaim it so. Readers aren’t always going to like these characters, but their compelling storylines and thorough characterization will make it almost unimportant.
Oh, Harper. Selfish and overly angsty as she was, I kind of wanted to scream some sense into her fictional little noggin, but .I’m the June of my family in terms of expectations put on me and brains, but I get how Harper feels because socially, I’m the Harper and my older brother is the June. It sucks to live in someone’s shadow and it can really hurt you to be in that shadow for too long. Laney, Harper’s best friend, and Jake, the guy who basically barges his way into the girls’ trip to California with June’s ashes, may be supporting characters, but they receive equally well-done characterization and character arcs.
Though music is in my genetics (my grandfather sings gospel, my dad and his brothers were once in that gospel group, and my brother is a drummer), I haven’t got a musical bone in my body. I love music nonetheless and the way Harrington incorporates music into the novel is fantabulous. Though the novel is ultimately about Harper dealing with her sister’s suicide and the road trip to California, the undercurrent of what music means to people and what it can do for them was weaved in beautifully. For anyone who wants to play along at home, the songs used are listed in the back of the book. If I ever have time to reread books, I’ll want to reread this one while listening to all the mentioned songs at the appropriate moments so I can get the full experience.
Harper and Jake’s slow-burn romance really worked for me because when they finally got together, I understood exactly why they liked each other. Over two-hundred pages of banter, occasional thoughtful conversation, and bonding over music culminated in a relationship that felt real and good. Though I wished the focus was less on their romance and more on Harper’s relationship with her sister, I suppose it was better than it could have been. There are always those books where the romance completely possesses the novel like a demon.
My two problems with the novel were small, but I couldn’t ignore them. The characterization of one-shot character Gwen annoyed me. She’s portrayed as a jealous snob who is possessive over her ex-boyfriend Jake and she’s almost made out to be a joke, which is a bit of a problem when I agree with some of her ideas. The second was some arbitrary slut shaming that happened in the novel. Was there really a need to call the cheerleader June’s boyfriend Tyler cheated on her with a skank? No, there was not. Sex is overall handled positively in the novel and it’s almost always objected to when someone else throws around the word “slut”, but that one little piece made me make a very ugly face.
Seriously, don’t slut shame in novels. One throwaway instance of calling someone a skank or a slut might turn out to be all that keeps the novel from getting a glowing five-star review from a young woman who isn’t easily impressed.