Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Saving June by Hannah Harrington

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Available November 29, 2011
"If she'd waited less than two weeks, she'd be June who died in June.  But I guess my sister didn't think of that.

When Harper Scott's sister, June, takes her own life a week before her high school graduation, sixteen year-old Harper is devastated.  Everyone is sorry, but no one can explain why.

When her divorcing parents decide to split up her sister's ashes, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  She'll steal the urn 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 and a classic rock-obsession ... and an unknown connection to June.  So when he insists on joining them, Harper's just desperate enough to let him.  With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanor, and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what she needs.  Except ... Jake's keeping a secret that has the power to turn Harper's life upside down -- again."

Saving June is a stunning debut from Hannah Harrington who tenderly balances the gravity of suicide by injecting moments of humor.  

I was immediately captivated from the first few words that Harper Scott uttered. She's a straightforward person who says what she means and doesn’t sugarcoat things.  She’s at a loss for how to process her sister's death.  A few things compound the situation – June didn’t leave behind a note, their parents had just recently finalized their divorce and they’re emotionally useless. 

Harper is heavy with guilt and anger that she had no inkling about what was happening with her sister.  They had drifted apart in recent years with their differences becoming more apparent.  June was the golden child, seemingly happy and successful at whatever she did.  Harper accepted that she could never live up to her and never sought to emulate her.  This is where I find that she's a breath of fresh air. There’s no mystery surrounding why she behaves as rebelliously as she does.  She's the polar opposite of what June was.  Where June was the more polite, thoughtful daughter, Harper is the abrasive one.

In going through June’s room, Harper comes across a couple of things that puzzle her.  First, June had originally been planning on going to college in California but that fell through.  So Harper is baffled when she finds a post card of California with June’s handwriting on the back suggesting that she was heading out there anyway.   Second, there was a mix CD in the car that June was listening to when she died.  The content of the mix CD was a surprise because it wasn’t exactly June’s taste in music, at least as far as Harper was aware of.  The stark realization that she genuinely didn't know who her sister was really hits her hard. 

As reparation for their lack of closeness when she was alive, Harper decides to fulfill June’s dream of going to California by taking her ashes out there.  She’s accompanied on this trip by her best friend Laney and the mysterious Jake who has a connection to June that Harper is determined to solve. 

Most of the book takes place with them on the road and I have to say that there were times when I literally laughed out loud.  Harper’s dry humor and self-analysis can be very insightful and amusing.  I loved the road trip! Harper’s best friend Laney is fun and thankfully not the annoying kind of best friend.  She’s doing her best to be there for Harper even though she’s not entirely sure what she should do.  While she has her own issues to deal with, it’s clear that Harper is a very important person in her life and she’s there at her side no matter what.

But my favorite dynamic is between Harper and Jake.  They easily rub each other the wrong way but they also refuse to back down from each other.  Jake is a music geek, a very good-looking music geek, and it’s music that plays a pivotal role in this book.  He introduces the girls to a wide array and happily relates the stories behind the bands or the songs. Surprisingly, music provides the much-needed catharsis for Harper to navigate through her confusion and guilt.  And even more startling to her, she finds herself drawn to Jake as she learns to deal with moving on.

Saving June is such a poignant story about how each person deals with tragedy in their lives and learning to accept the different ways they come to terms with it.  It’s also about how unlikely people help one another recognize themselves and offer a different perspective.  Harper's own self-revelation is bittersweet yet also a reason to rejoice.  The characters are so tangible that I believe readers will find something in each one that resonates with them.  And as someone who has always felt like Jake does about music, I’m so impressed with how effortlessly Hannah Harrington entwines it with the story, particularly in one chapter when the recounting of an old Eric Clapton song evoked such heartbreak that I did shed a few tears.  

I give Saving June our highest rating.  I thoroughly enjoyed everything about it and I was actually reluctant to pick up another book so soon because it left such an indelible mark on me.  It’s strange - considering what it's about that you'd think I'd be left feeling somber.  Instead, it left me feeling joyful and I can't help but smile every time I think about it.  Every once in a while you come across something that just blows you away and Saving June is that for me.  It's easily one of my favorites of the year! 

~ Bel

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