Saturday, January 21, 2012

review: Saving June

Title by Author: Saving June by Hannah Harrington
Series (if applicable): none
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: May 2011
Page Count:  336
‘If she’d waited less than two weeks, she’d be June who died in June. But I guess my sister didn’t consider that.’

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.

Saving June is a story of teenage angst, drugs, rock n’ roll, sex, suicide, and other problems that plague teens.  Harper’s older sister committed suicide two weeks before high school graduation, for no apparent reason.  Harper is left in the aftermath of her seemingly perfect sister’s decision to end her life.  Harper wants answers, but she doesn’t really get them. Instead, she takes matters in to her own hands. She feels she must since she is the one who found the body on the way to school that fateful morning.

In June’s hand, Harper finds a cover of a mix cd of music that her sister never listened to, or at least as far as Harper knew.  Harper and June never really saw eye-to-eye in the first place, as Harper was the one who could do no right, whereas her sister June could do no wrong.  Harper’s best friend Laney helps track down the origin of the cd, and comes across that weird guy who showed up at the funeral.  What does Jake Tolan know about her sister that she didn’t know?

When Harper goes through her sister’s room, searching for some kind of answer as to why she did this, she finds a post card from California.  She knew that her sister wanted to go to college in California, but her parents wanted her to stay closer to home, in Michigan.  Harper decides to hijack the ashes of her sister, and take them to California, hoping to make things right.  Jake Tolan arrives on a white horse, in a beat-up black van, offering to take Harper, Laney and June’s ashes to California.

Jake Tolan was my favorite character in this story.  If only Harper could remove her brown-smeared glasses, and see this kid for who he was, probably would have made things easier for herself.  Jake was cool, he was extremely helpful, and he ran to his own beat.  What eighteen year old boy would take two sixteen year old girls across the country, with his own money and vehicle, to help take the ashes of a girl he sort-of knew to their final resting spot in the Pacific Ocean?  Jake Tolan, that’s who.  He had hidden depths, but he was still a boy, having to deal with an immature girl like Harper and her best friend.  I know Harper constantly dissed him, but he was unwittingly her knight. 

I also enjoyed the music in the book.  I don’t know half of it, but it was interesting how the author tied it in, had meanings to the songs and used them to carry along the story.  I still have to look up half of it, but there are also several classics that I enjoyed seeing get some air time, and I hope that teens or young adults who read this book, give those songs a chance, as this old fart will try the new stuff.

However, I had so many problems with this story, maybe that’s why it took me so long to read this book.  The first of which is the complete selfishness of Harper.  I have no idea what it would have been like to have lost my sister to suicide when I was younger.  Who knows, maybe I would have been become “all about me,” hoping to not only fulfill my sister’s last wish, but also hoping that my childish reactions would have snapped my grieving mother out of the serious funk she was in.  Maybe I would have stolen my sister’s ashes to drag them across the country with my best friend and some strange guy who knew something of my sister, just to prove that I was the bad kid that my parents thought all along. 

Maybe I am seeing this story through the eyes of an adult, but I would not recommend this book to any teenager because of the blatant disrespect for adults and for themselves.  I had to suspend reality a bit to see how this worked, two underage girls going across the country with an adult male.  Plus, the cigarette smoking, drinking, sex and pregnancy just made me uncomfortable.  Not a book that I would put in the hands of my teenage daughter.

The last quarter of the book, though, did make the story a little more worthwhile.  Despite the errors or misrepresentation of areas that they traveled through, the story finally became about living and not destruction.   I still think Harper made too many mistakes, the first of which is running away from home, but she finally came away from the trip with a desire to live, unlike what her sister did.  Though, I still felt that the letter from June was not enough of an explanation, and wondered why no one ever saw the pain that she was in! 

I would have a hard time recommending this book to anyone, though it might appeal more to younger people.  I think that there should have been more ‘lessons’ in it – still trying to figure out why Harper did what she did with Jake right after her best friend told her she was pregnant.  Big opportunity there to be a little more sensible than the author was.  The following ‘favorite quotes’ below are a good take-away from this story, but it wasn’t worth the time, in my opinion, that this book took.  It was painful to see a young person act this way, and that was probably my biggest problem with the story.

Favorite Quote:
Everything that was left of my sister is gone.  Except not, because I have sixteen years’ worth of memories, and they mean more than bone and ash ever could.

Because I know that I want to be here.  Even with the pain.  Even with the ugliness.  I’ve seen the other side – marching side by side down city streets with people who all believe they can change the world and the view of the sunset from Fridgehenge and Tom Waits lyrics and doing the waltz and kisses so hot they melt into each other and best friends who hold your hand and stretching out underneath a sky draped with stars and everything else.  There is so much beauty in just existing.  In being alive.  I don’t want to miss a second.
Rating:  3 stars
Tag: contemporary, young adult, teenage angst, suicide, road trip, music
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