Author: Hannah Harrington
Publication Date: 11/22/11
Blurb (GR): When her older sister commits suicide and her divorcing parents decide to divide the ashes, Harper Scott takes her sister's urn to the one place June always wanted to go: California. On the road with her best friend, plus an intriguing guy with a mysterious connection to June, Harper discovers truths about her sister, herself and life.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I failed to connect with this book. Is it because I’m the oldest sibling and I don’t know what it’s like to be the rebellious younger sister? Is it because I’m just too damn old? Is it because, even when I was young, I thought that mosh pits were stupid? Maybe it’s because the thought of Jake singing softly in my ear in a van makes me want to elbow him in the solar plexus…and unlike Harper, I DO know where that is. I think that this is one of those YA books that is very authentically young. I mean, kids need fluff reads too. But it just doesn’t have enough depth for me.
Harper is sixteen years old and she’s just lost her older, perfect, over-achieving sister June. Except that June may not have been so perfect after all: she had a hidden sadness that no one really understood. When Harper finds a mysterious mix CD in June’s room, it leads her to Jake, and eighteen year old “douche-baggy hipster music snob with the tastes of a forty-year-old white guy.”(That’s a quote from Laney, my favorite character.) As Harper begins to understand her sister, she hatches a wild plan to fulfill June’s last dream.
I never had a clear picture of Harper: she’s a girl who rebels in a knee-jerk reaction to her sister’s perfection. She doesn’t have any deeply held beliefs or even her own taste in music. She’s like a sponge with no identity of her own. All of this, to me, speaks to a deep insecurity and low self-worth on her part. Which would be completely fine, honestly. I wish that she had chosen to explore that side of Harper a bit more. And yet, we are constantly informed by the author that Harper is so strong, so stubborn, so much healthier than her sister. I guess I just wasn’t buying it.
Nothing feels true. Harper runs on the beach, then collapses in tears. She runs across a grassy area then collapses in tears. She runs to a boulder in the desert and collapses in tears. If she didn’t run and then collapse in tears, how would we know that she’s SAD? And if she didn’t drink and smoke and mosh and punch guys in the face, how would we know that she’s FULL OF ANGST?! I kept waiting to feel some real, honest emotion but it never happened. I recently read one of the most profound, honest portrayals of grief and it was written from the point of view of a thirteen year old. Just because your audience is young, doesn’t mean that the story needs to be oversimplified.
So many opportunities for emotional catharsis are squandered. We never get to see what happens with Harper’s aunt, or her father, or her mother. Laney’s crisis? Magically solved. And after waiting for Harper to finally open up to someone about June, we are given a one sentence allusion to a conversation that she has with Jake. I needed to see that conversation, not hear about it after the fact. You can’t have a first person narrator and cheat the reader like that. What could have been an emotional scene is wasted.
And so many of the references just made me feel OLD. There’s this whole air of mystery and affectedness surrounding Jake and his musical taste, like, “What? The Rolling Stones? Bruce Springsteen? Janis Joplin? HOW DOES HE COME UP WITH THESE BANDS?!!”It’s called Top 40. Just because it’s the popular music of another decade, doesn’t make it mysterious. There’s also a scene where kids jump rope to the chant “Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, in nineteen hundred and forty-two” Is that an error or a cutting commentary about the state of our educational system? Or possibly it’s both….
Still, I didn't hate this book. I laughed in a few places and while I may have skimmed through the end, I didn't have too much trouble getting through it.
Perfect Musical Pairing
ABBA – I Have a Dream
No one should ever be ashamed to love ABBA! This is one of my favorites of theirs. Now excuse me while I go watch Muriel’s Wedding for the bagillionth time.