When Harper’s older sister June commits suicide a few days before her own high school graduation, Harper is left in a state of shock. June was always the perfect daughter, and she left Harper to deal with their warring parents on her own. Everyone is sorry, but Harper is mostly numb. A road trip to California with her best friend Laney, her sister June’s ashes, and the mysterious Jake, a friend of June’s is just what’s in order. Will Harper come to terms with June’s death? Will she allow herself to feel for the cocky, sullen Jake?
The problem with Hannah Harrington’s debut novel Saving June is that there isn’t anything new being offered to readers. What is offered is fairly standard fare, especially for YA these days: the loss of a sister, a grief-stricken protagonist, a road trip, a mysterious boy who thaws the heroine’s heart, etc. etc. Despite the fact that Harrington’s book doesn’t invent the wheel, it’s still a fairly entertaining read.
What does work is the chemistry between Harper and Jake. The two bristle and fight, make moony eyes at each other, and then bristle and fight again. The dialogue between them is snappy and authentic, and the longing between the two of them practically crackles off the page. Unfortunately, the novel’s focal point–Harper reconciling her rocky relationship with her dead sister and coming to terms with her death–takes a backseat to this melodramatic love story. Bummer.
Harrington also populates her story with a great deal of music. Music lives and breathes in the van alongside Harper, Laney, and Jake. The musical discussions–along with the playlist at the end of the book–help add dimension to the story and its characters. The music choices are solid for the most part, and audiophiles will enjoy thinking about the songs.
Around the last third of the book, the story starts to drag. Harrington tries to do too much–and Laney’s sudden conundrum feels clunky and poorly constructed. Harper’s struggles are enough to propel the book towards its conclusion, and adding in Laney’s issues (almost as a way of adding personality to her character) detracts from the momentum of the novel. However, Harrington is a skilled enough writer, and fans of contemporary YA featuring grief/sex/drugs/rock’n’roll are likely to be sated by this one.
Saving June by Hannah Harrington. Harlequin Teen: 2011. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.