Hail Caesar: Reveiwed!

Hail Caesar, by Thu-Huong Ha


Let me just start out by saying I will NEVER learn how to spell ‘caesar’ correctly without having to look it up. But anyways. John “Caesar” Miller is the golden boy. Guys idolize him, girls fall at his feet, and his life is one big party. At the outset of the book the only things he cares about – and I mean actually cares about – are basketball and his little sisters. So he’s not completely awful.

But then he meets Eva (pronounced ay-vah), the new girl. She’s not falling at his feet like all the other girls (Jenna, Sophie, Lindsey, etc) are and she seems his complete opposite, but the two become friends. He actually talks to her – something he doesn’t do with, well, anyone else.

I suspect the Eva-Caesar plot wouldn’t have been enough to keep this story going, if only for the reason that it seems a little too romance-story-predictable for my tastes. It’s the subplot of this book that I really loved: the relationship Caesar has with his thirteen-year-old sister, Kelly. The way he worries about her when he sees that she’s potentially going down the same route he started taking when he was in junior high.

I didn’t expect greatness from this book. In fact, I didn’t even expect to finish this book. The whole thing surprised me, really. I mean I actually really enjoyed this book. The characters and emotions were impressively real and even though Caesar’s not someone I would ever think about in real life, the honesty of his personality and his relationships with the people around him drew me into the book, the setting, the story.

That wonderfullness being said, I did have some trouble with the book. Two things: too much talk about sex (not graphic), and waytoo many instances of the F-word. (And omg please tell me 13-yr olds don’t really cuss as much as Kelly does!) Now I realize that if these things hadn’t been in the book it would have been much less real, but it was still a bit problematic for me.

Still though, I loved this book. And I especially loved the ending!


Official Sweethearts Talk

Okay it’s here.

You all know I have no idea how to write a discussion post, right? And that I’m just going to talk talk talk about the book, right?

Here goes.

Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr.

I’m assuming you’ve read it (this is a book club, after all) and you know what it’s about. So I’m not going to spend time explaining the plot or introducing the characters. I’m just going to leap in.

There were a lot of things about Sweethearts that struck me, that hit close to home, and one of them is the whole idea of starting over.

That night I had an imaginary funeral for Cameron in my mind, with giant bouquets of flowers and big cakes and piles of little sandwiches and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing. He rested, peaceful, in his coffin, hands folded in front of him. Then I closed the lid, because it hurt too much not to, and Cameron and all my memories of him were lowered into the ground. And somehow I knew that if I was going to survive, the person I was had to be buring with him.

I think there’s always something appealing, almost romantic, about starting over. About becoming a different person, leaving the life you have. And I think there comes a point, at least one point in each of our lives, when we get that chance and we have to decide: do we start over and create a new identity, as Jenna did, or do we not? I got that chance when I moved to California and though I didn’t take it, I could have. I could have became someone new, someone who looked different and spoke differently and had different interests. I didn’t though, and Jenna did.

She became skinny, she became funny, she became popular, she became happy. At least outwardly.

And that’s another thing that strikes me about this book – how easy it is to fool others. Jenna talks about forcing her features into a smile, about saying funny things and not showing that she takes things seriously. And people buy it. Her boyfriend, her friends, everyone. The people who are supposed to know her best believe her, and I have to wonder if they believe it because she’s such a good actor, or if they believe it because at our core we all want to think that everyone around us is fine, that they’re happy, that their life is perfect even if it isn’t. If we look for reasons not to get beyond the surface of what a person shows us and instead believe them when they smile and say, “I’m fine.”

And I think everyone needs someone in their lives, at least one person (but hopefully more) who both know them well enough to know when they’re not right and also care enough to show it.


I’m talking about the ones who, for whatever reason, are as much a part of you as your own soul. Their place in your heart is tender; a bruise of longing, a pulse of unfinished business. Just hearing their names pushes and pulls at you in a hundred ways, and when you try to describe them even to yourself, words are useless. If you had a lifetime to talk, there would still be things left unsaid.

One of the questions I asked Sara Zarr in my interview with her was if she thinks that everyone has someone like that in their lives, a Cameron Quick. Because I think we all do, to a certain extent. There are people, I know, in my own life who are always in my mind, even if I haven’t seen them in a long time, they’re never far from the front of my mind. They are a part of me. I don’t think it has to be a childhood sweetheart either, although I definitely agree with what Sara said about there being something special about the relationships we have when we’re children.


(And now I have ten minutes left to write this so I have to make it quick.)

To me it seems that Sweethearts is kind of a tortured love story, which I don’t usually go in for (can’t stand Lena and Kostos, for instance, and I’m not on Team Edward either – please no telling me how Breaking Dawn ends!), but this one is different. For starters, of course, there’s the fact that Jenna and Cameron were never a couple and by the end of the book you know they never will be.

But it’s this part, I think, that makes it tortured:

“Mom, could you just listen?” She clamped her lips shut. “Not like a brother,” i said. “It’s almost like nothing would be enough. Being a couple wouldn’t be enough. Being like brother and sister wouldn’t be enough. It’s an endless sense of… I don’t know.” I could tell it was killing her not talk. I sighed. “Go ahead.”

“Unfinished business,” she said, with a rush of breath. “That’s what I see between you two.”

“Unfinished business?”

“Yes. And I think it will feel that way until the day you die.”

I looked at her to see if she was serious. She was. “Great.”

The idea of unfinished business is unsettling to me for some reason. I think maybe because I’m one of those people who can’t stand not knowing things and unfinished business just seems like an endless sense of not knowing.


Okay, your turn. Leave it in the comments or write on your own blog (but please let me know as I want to see what you think!), but I hope you guys will take part in the Sweethearts discussion. I apologize if it’s not your traditional book discussion and that I tend to go off and talk about the “themes” of the book instead of the plot. Everyone else should feel free to talk about whatever part of the book they’d like to though.

And concerning the book for August, I’ll have news soon (like in the next couple days) but please vote if you haven’t yet (go to the Book Club Stuff page to see our choices).

Eleven Questions: Sara Zarr

Okay, so it sounds like most of you who were able to get ahold of the book have finished it, or are close to it, by now. So yay! If you weren’t able to get a copy this month, I’m really sorry and I still recommend you read it because this book is AWESOME. I’m planning on having next month’s book decision posted by the 2nd of August (GO TO THE BOOK CLUB STUFF PAGE AND VOTE FOR ONE!!!) so that we’ll all have more time to get our hands on a copy. Most of the books are new, but there’s one already out in paperback and I’m sure some of them will be easier to get a copy of than others.

Anyway. The OFFICIAL Sweethearts discussion post will be sometime within the next week and I strongly encourage you all to comment here/talk about it on your own blog.

Right now though, we’re lucky enough to have an interview with Sara Zarr herself! Woot!! I’m insanely excited about this. You probably are too.

J: I’d love to know about the background for this book; what’s the story behind Sweethearts?

SZ: The short version is that there was a boy, Mark, who left a ring and a note in my lunch when I was in grade school, and I never forgot him. He found me on the internet twenty-something years later, and getting back in touch with him really stirred up a lot of memories and feelings about my childhood. I didn’t have a horrible childhood, but it wasn’t great. Once I started talking to Mark again I got this really vivid picture of myself as an eight year old. I’d drive by my old apartment and imagine myself at that age standing in the window looking out and wondered what happened to that girl. Was she still me? Or a part of me buried somewhere? I felt like I’d left a part of myself there when my mom remarried, like I’d abandoned that girl.

Later, when it was time for me to get working on a book after Story of a Girl, I decided to fictionalize myself and Mark and imagine what would have happened if these two special friends had been reunited in high school and explore those issues of what we leave behind, or what we think we leave behind. I guess that wasn’t really the “short” version!

J: If it’s possible for you to even choose, who’s your favorite character from this book?

SZ: I can’t choose! That’s like asking a mother which of her children she loves best. I do have to say I’m fond of the stepfather, Alan.

J: Sweethearts is such an emotional book – did that make it more difficult to write?

SZ: Yes! It was so hard to make that emotion real, to put it into words that readers could connect with. Language usually fails when it comes to describing all the complexities of human emotion, but you do the best you can. It’s painstaking.

J: Are you the type of writer to outline or wing it?

SZ: I don’t outline, but I have a general idea of key scenes and where the book is going. Once I start writing, things change. Characters you thought were important get edged out by new ones that you didn’t expect, and that affects the plot.

J: The cover for Sweethearts really interests me. Did you have any input as far as what it would look like?

SZ: No, and it’s a good thing, because I had no idea how to come up with a visual representation of the story. The design department at my publisher did a great job. When I first saw it, I thought, Oh, that’s so literal. It’s a sweet heart. But the more I looked at it, the more I saw how kind of brilliant it is in its simplicity and how much it says about the story. The stark background, the missing piece of the cookie, the childlike font of the title… I think it all works.

J: What audience did you have in mind when you wrote Sweethearts? Was there one person in particular you thought of, a group of people, or was it something you just wrote for yourself?

SZ: My first audience is always me, in the sense that I try to write book that I would want to read – now, and when I was a teen. Then in the revision process, my editor is sort of the representative of general readership. She asks me questions that are geared toward making sure I’m communicating my vision to a readership the best I can.

J: I’m always interested in knowing what sort of music authors equate with their work. If you could choose one song that was Jennifer and Cameron’s “theme song,” what would it be?

SZ: For me, they each have their own song. Jenna’s is “Born” by Over the Rhine, which is so much about embracing love in the midst of pain and fear. Cameron’s (in the context of his relationship with Jenna) is Steve Earle’s “Close Your Eyes.” I love the opening lyric of that Steve Earle song – “I dreamed you were standing on the edge of the world, and I thought I heard you call out.”

J: Do you believe that everyone has a Cameron Quick in their life, someone who, as Jenna put it in the book, “[is] as much a part of you as your own soul. Their place in your heart is tender; a bruise of longing, a pulse of unfinished business… Just hearing their names pushes and pulls at you in a hundred ways, and when you try to define those hundred ways, describe them even to yourself, words are useless. If you had a lifetime to talk, there would still be things left unsaid?”

SZ: Based on the response I’ve had from readers, I think a lot of people do, but I don’t know about everyone. I actually think it’s pretty rare for a connection to last over time and circumstances, but it seems like there’s something about the relationships of childhood that have the most staying power.

J: Who is the first person that gets to read what you write?

SZ? It depends. If it’s something for publication, usually my agent, when I’m first kicking around an idea. If it’s just something I’m dabbling in for my own reasons, it’s other writer friends.

J: Both of your books have somewhat unconventional endings in that the reader doesn’t feel so much like it’s the end of the character’s story, but more like its the end of one brief chapter in the story. Why do you choose to end your books in this way?

SZ: Because I write realistic fiction, I feel like there is really no such thing as an ending. Relationships never truly end. Even if communication stops, they leave echoes in your life forever. Situations sometimes end, but in a way they go on, too. I guess I like to have th sense of forward momentum at the end of a book, like the characters are all going to wake up the next day and have their lives go on even after we leave them.

J: What was your working title for Sweethearts, or what did you imagine it being called before it had an actual name?

SZ: This was the first book that I knew the title of from the very beginning, before I started writing it. There was never any other title.

J: Thank you, Sara Zarr, for an awesome interview!

Club Questions…

Okay, poll time.

How many of you are done reading the book and how many of you are still working on it? Please please please comment below because we have some exciting stuff coming up that I don’t want to post until at least MOST of us are done reading the book: I don’t want to spoil it for anyone!

So please let me know how you’re doing and in the meantime I’m sitting here pondering over the book choices for August. I realize this is when lots of schools begin (mine included, note to self: register for classes), but it’s only one book a month, plus it’s fun, plus YOU NEED A BREAK FROM ALL THAT STUDYING… right?

Also, a question. It gets expensive buying books and if your library is a sad little one like mine, their collection of YA is sorely missing which means you have to actually BUY these books if you want to read them. (Or you could borrow them from friends, but my nearbyest friend reads Gossip Girl. Sad little thing.) So question: would you like me to begin including some new release PAPERBACKS in the book club choices? They wouldn’t be new books because most of them would have already been out in hardcover, but it would certainly be cheaper.

Eagerly awaiting your answers.


Hello all!

I hope that most of you have been able to get ahold of a copy of Sweethearts – sounds like there has been some trouble on that front. Amazon has the book a lot cheaper than Barnes & Noble if that helps anyone at all.

My Official Post on the book will be coming sometime in the next two weeks. Right now I’m wondering what everyone thinks of the book. I definitely think it’s amazing and I enjoyed it a lot more than Sara Zarr’s first book, Story of a Girl, but I’ve heard from others that they were disappointed by it.

So, opinions? Love? Hate? So-so? And if you’ve read Story of a Girl, how is Sweethearts compared to that one? Do you think you’ll read other books Sara Zarr might come out with?