Paperback, 380 pages.
Release date: June 1st 2017.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
From acclaimed author Emery Lord comes a vibrant, compelling story of love, loss, faith, and friendship.
Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters—in faith, in love, and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp—one for troubled kids—Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?
Emotionally-charged and unforgettable, Emery Lord’s storytelling shines with the promise of new love and true friendship, even in the face of life’s biggest challenges.
Ever since Emery Lord arrived on the YA scene with Open Road Summer, her impossible-to-resist 2014 debut, she has been an auto-buy author for me. Why then, when I read the synopsis of her latest book, The Names They Gave Us, did I question whether or not I should read this book? Two words, people: cancer and religion. It’s not that I ‘can’t do’ or ‘won’t do’ issue-driven contemporary fiction, it’s just that I prefer not to. If given a choice I will opt for YA contemporary fiction with cute crushes, first kisses and summers full of swoon every single time. That said, I have read and loved Lord’s When We Collided, which deals with the topic of mental illness and so, despite my reservations, I said I’d give this one a whirl. Spoiler alert: I didn’t love it.
Lucy Hansson is introduced to us as a responsible, capable seventeen-year-old whose life is going just fine. Swim team captain Lucy has a close relationship with her parents, a long-term boyfriend, and a summer job lined up at her pastor father’s Bible camp. So far, so good, but then things start to go wrong. First, Lucy’s mother’s cancer returns, and then, in a total dick move, her boyfriend Lukas decides to hit ‘pause’ on their relationship. Cast your mind back to The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen. Remember ‘brain camp’ Jason? Lukas is just like him – but with added God. Note: Just to give you an indication of how important religion is to these kids, Lukas consults his pastor before ‘pausing’ his relationship with Lucy. Religion is important to Lucy too, and in light of her mother’s recent diagnosis, she begins to question her faith. Lucy has always played by the rules of religion, so why then would the God that she worships, the God that she trusts, do this to her? Why would he do this to her mother?
As someone who doesn’t practise religion, but was raised with it, I understood Lucy’s crisis of faith and her questioning of everything she once believed to be gospel. That said, I think Lord could have pushed Lucy’s crisis of faith and identity a little more than she did. After all, instead of her usual Bible camp, Lucy, at her mother’s request, spends the summer counselling at ‘Daybreak,’ a camp for troubled kids. It’s the perfect place for a little rebellion – or even just a little fun. Trouble is, Lucy is really not the rebellious type. She’s not really the fun type either. This is a girl who doesn’t break the rules, not even with her cute co-counsellor, Henry. Their fledgling romance is totally suitable for general audiences, which is a bummer, because I know it had total swoon potential. That’s the thing about this book, though: The Names They Gave Us, just like its protagonist, is so eager to please that it plays it super-safe, so as not to offend. And that just didn’t work for me. Sometimes, you have got to let your personality shine through, you know? Otherwise things can get a little bland.
So, I guess it’s safe to say that this book was not a great match for me. That happens. It happens all the time. I will read Emery Lord’s next book. I am a fan. And, to that end, I really don’t want to end this review on a negative note. OK, so I have to say that I also didn’t like the ending of this one – I found it all a bit far-fetched and rushed and I’m not really sure what was going on there – BUT. There’s a BUT. While I was initially cautious about reading a book containing the double whammy of both cancer and religion, Emery Lord deals with these themes with insight, understanding and a real deftness of touch, that makes for a reading experience that is never overwhelming or overbearing, when it could have been exactly that.