‘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.
Title: Saving June
Author: Hanna Harrington
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: May 1, 2011
Length: 322 pages
Series or Standalone: Standalone
Themes: Road Trip, Suicide, Sisterhood
POV: 1st person
Reviewer: Nick Morgan
Saving June is a pretty standard road-trip novel. Rather than post-graduation, though, it’s kicked off by the suicide of the main character’s big sister. I’ve randomly ended up reading a lot of sister stories recently, especially dead/absent sisters, and this one stands up pretty well in that area. Harper spends a lot of the book realizing that she didn’t know her sister quite as well as she thought she did before her suicide. I might be a bit biased, since I love the theme of finding out the truth about someone. Especially someone you think is perfect, like Harper thought her sister was.
The book does a pretty good job of exploring that theme, as well. What I reallly loved about the way Saving June handled it, though, is that there’s nothing crazy, no huge revelations. There were no secret affairs, no drug use, no murders. Just Harper’s slow realization that her sister tried too hard to be what everyone wanted her to be.
One of the obvious things to talk about with the book is June’s suicide. I won’t spoil it, but I thought it was very well-handled. I had a friend who killed herself when I was younger, and it’s hard to really imagine that kind of situation unless you’ve been through it. But Harrington gets the reader pretty close. June had her reasons, and although they may seem insufficient to some, they match what I know pretty well. And Harper’s reaction, and the reaction of her parents, was quite realistic.
And speaking of the parents, they were brilliantly-drawn characters. A lot of YA does the absent parent thing, or the clueless parent thing. But Harper’s parents are just like many of the parents I know. And her relationship with them is both a bit oblivious and very close–at least with her mother–all at the same time. Harper’s friend Laney has parents that fit more of the common tropes and cliches of YA, but it’s not as annoying because you don’t have to deal with them as much. Plus, while I think the commonness of such parents in YA is exaggerated, I did know people who had parents like Laney’s when I was younger.
Now, I don’t read a lot of Romance, and I didn’t read this book as a strict Romance novel, but technically it is. So it’s only fair to talk a bit about the Love Interest and his relationship with Harper. Jake is nothing special in the YA Love Interest category. He’s a bit mysterious, helps out the MC for what at first seems like no clear reason, and somehow has all the connections needed to get the protagonist where she wants to go. Obviously a bit of fantasy is inherent in any Romance novel, though, and I’m not necessarily the target audience of a YA Romance, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.
What I do want to complain about a bit is the style of romance involved. I’m not a huge fan of the antagonistic relationship in fiction. Every now and then it can be interesting, but often it seems like it’s exploited for tension rather than being an organic development based on the characters. It gets a little better as the book goes on, but I think I would have preferred Jake having more of his ow desire in going on the road trip than him putting Harper’s goals first as much as he does. His relationship with June I think would have been strong enough of a motivation, as well as the other things you learn as the books goes on.
One of the best relationships in the book, besides Harper’s relationship with her memories of her sister, is her relationship with Laney. They’re bickering was much more natural than Harper and Jake’s and despite hitting some tough spots, they come across as really close friends. One of the best aspects of the relationship is how it highlights how self-centered Harper can be. For example, stealing her sister’s ashes and going on a road-trip with a guy she barely knows. There were a few weaknesses in Laney’s character arc. For one, when she has her own big reveal, it wraps up a bit too neatly, and her family situation, while probably shitty for her, gives her more latitude than I felt made the conflict work. But it’s hard to find a perfect book, so I don’t want to nitpick too much.
Finally, there’s the issue of music in the book. A lot of YA in the last few years has had a focus on music. In Saving June, the role of the resident music expert is played by Jake. He loves classic rock, and spends a lot of the book trying to share that love with Harper and Laney. I’ve seen several reviews, of this book and others, criticizing the use of music references. Especially older ones, like Eric Clapton and The Kinks, as in the book. But personally, I think many of the references Jake makes are either familiar to readers even in this day and age, and if they aren’t they won’t detract a great deal from the story. And plenty of teens and young adults are music buffs in their own right. Everyone has favorite music, and even if the references are a bit obscure, I think most readers will be able to empathize with the characters in terms of loving music in general.
I would say I don’t regret having read the book, despite a few complaints. The theme is great, and it’s one of the themes in YA I think isn’t overdone. Plus, I love a good road-trip novel.
Conclusion: 76/100 (Worth reading)
Premise: 8/10 (Fun, but not shallow)
Plot: 6/10 (Too man convenient coincidences)
Setting: 8/10 (We;;-described and engaging)
Main Character: 9/10 (Realistic and complicated)
Romance Plot 7/10 (A bit convenient, and I dislike the tropes involved)
Love Interest 6/10 (Pretty standard)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Didn’t suffer by comparison to the MCs)
Writing: 8/10 (Captured the teenage voice well, wasn’t clunky)
Themes: 9/10 (Well-handled, nuanced)
Resolution: 7/10 (Seemed a bit easy)
Buy Or Borrow: Definitely worth buying, if you love romance and sibling relationships. Or if you just want a good road-trip novel.