Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: Saving June by Hannah Harrington

Release date: January 1st 2011
Info about the author: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Age Group: YA
Pages: 336
Buy the book: Amazon - Book Depository

Rating: 5/5

Description (from Goodreads):

‘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.

My thoughts:

Suicide of someone close to me being an issue that I've personally gone through (and will keep going through for the rest of my life), books like this always bring up memories and feelings I try to bury as deep as possible. Due to that, and the reason that I have tended to think that these YA suicide books are not very realistic portrayals of the type of grief that cannot really even be described in words, I have tended to avoid them in general. I feel like in order to be able to write realistically about suicide and the grief that builds inside those close to the victim is something someone personally has to go through in order to understand it (or write about it). I don't know what is the case with Harrington, but she really was able to hit close with this one, bringing up feelings buried deep inside.

Harper is used to being the "second best" to her parents next to her perfect sister June. Out of the blue, June commits suicide, and after Harper finds her, she is the only one left. When her divorced parents decide that the fair thing to do is the divide June's ashes between the two of them, Harper knows it is time to act. She steals the urn and plans to spread the ashes in California, a place June had always dreamed about. With the company of Laney, her best friend, and Jake, a music lover clouded in mystery, Harper begins a journey hoping it will bring closure to both June and herself. 

I've not many times been faced with a book that I have difficult time getting in to for emotional reasons. But this one hit so close to home that for a while it was just emotionally too straining for me to read it. I really like Harper - she is strong, but confused, not knowing how to handle her grief. She is not sure whether she should feel angry or sad, or both. There are not many characters out there that I've related to as much as I was able to relate to Harper - she wants answers, but at the same time she is scared to face the truth. Like many people who have dealt with suicide, she blames herself even though she deep down knows that there is probably nothing she could have done. 

The book never really explains why June killed herself. I feel like in many YA suicide books the reasons for the act have been so concrete and so well constructed that they don't really feel very realistic. All we know is that June killed herself because she was sad. The type of sadness and desperation that a person must feel in order to commit suicide is something that probably cannot even be explained - it might be one big thing, or a combination of small things that have piled up and started to feel to heavy. Eventually, there is no other way out. Some say that suicide is one of the most selfish things, maybe even the most selfist thing, a person can do, and I wholeheartedly agree with that. But in some sick, twisted way suicide is also probably one of the most bravest things a person can do - the result hurts the people that are left behind, but at the same time you get closure for something that has been hurting you. 

With Harper having other issues she has to deal with, the relationship between her and Jake really takes its time to develop, which I really liked. Jake knew June in different way than Harper, but he understands the sadness and feeling of loss Harper is going through. Sometimes people have the weird need to compare who is the saddest and whose grief is the largest. In my family my grandmother is always the one who at the moment of loss says that she is the one who is the saddest and who has lost the most. But can you really measure grief? I don't think so. Of course the loss of a child is most probably hardest on the parents. But what about the loss of a friend? Is your grief smaller and less important if you are not related to the one lost? And can you grief for someone you did not personally know? Harrington's novel really digs into this, discussing the different levels of grief as well as the ways people cope with them. 

Saving June is extremely heartbreaking and I at least found myself crying during the final couple of chapters without a stop. There is an element of romance there, but as mentioned, it is not one of those super romantic, kind of instalovey books I sometimes read myself as well. The love in this book hurts, but it also helps the characters grow. Essentially, it is a story about anger, about the want to die, but also about the desire to keep going even though it hurts like hell. It also opens your eyes to a grief that I hope not many of you have to go through during your lifetime. All dead is sad, of course, but imagining the sadness and complete isolation someone who commits suicide must have been feeling always breaks my heart. 

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