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).

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