Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: Saving June by Hannah Harrington (Flashback Friday #3)

Flashback Friday was originally an idea came up with - or thought I came up with at any rate. Since I'm a new book blogger with dozens of reviews on GoodReads, I thought Flashback Friday would be a great way to feature some of my older reviews on my blog. However, it turns out that there are tons of different bloggers out there who feature a Flashback Friday of their own. So, I am taking ideas from two such bloggers - Clean Teen Fiction and Skyla11377 - and meshing them together to create my own version of Flashback Friday - a version which features some of my favorite books from the past year and provides a review for them. You don't have to be a new blogger to participate in Flashback Friday though. This is simply an opportunity to showcase novels we've read in the past and enjoyed, even if there is no written review for it, so feel free to grab my button or make your own and participate! :)

Today's Flashback Friday Pick: Saving June by Hannah Harrington 

Title: Saving June 

Author: Hannah Harrington 

Rating: 5/5 Stars 

Very rarely in my life have I come across a book where it is difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what I liked about it. Saving June falls into this rare category of books simply because it made me feel so many emotions that it is hard for me to go back and find the exact moment I began falling in love with it. Saving June was one of those books that I was so completely invested in that time lost all meaning and I forgot that I was reading a book in my bed and not on a road trip to California myself. Perhaps I loved it so much because it was my first road trip story or because it falls under the category of the few books that have had such a strong focus on music. Perhaps I loved it because I haven't read a book about a sister who committed suicide yet or because this story took me on an emotional roller-coaster ride. Whatever it may have been, I don't think that the proper words exist for me to express my love of this novel; yet, I will attempt to try.

First and foremost, I think it should be noted that I loved this book for all the reasons that other people didn’t love it. I’ve read my fair share of Saving Junereviews and while I respect each and every one of them, I found myself to be in the minority when I recognized that the aspects of this book that drew me in were not quite the same for others. For one, I loved the narration of this novel.Saving June is told from the point of view of Harper whose older sister, June, has just committed suicide. The entire story revolves around Harper’s quest to take her sister’s ashes to California, the one place she wanted to visit more than anything else. Harper’s voice is real, raw, and brutal in a way that isn’t quite likeable. She is moody, upset, cynical, dark, and often sarcastic. She does everything in her power to distinguish herself from her perfect older sister and now, that said sister is no longer alive, she doesn’t quite know what to do. After her parents divorce, it’s always been June who comforts her mother, not her. It’s always been June who gets the perfect grades, not her. It’s always been June who has a large circle of friends, not like Harper whose social life revolves around her best friend, Laney. Harper is far from perfect, but all her imperfections and flaws make her so tangible, palpable, and realistic. I found myself falling in love with the ease of her narration, the brutal honesty of her thoughts, and her intelligent insight. Harper knows that she is a hard person to like and live with but she makes no efforts to change who she is for others. She sees herself as being an emotionless being since she can’t bring herself to cry at her sister’s funeral, but her hurt and pain go so much deeper than any physical manifestation of tears could convey. Although Harper is easy to hate, criticize, and find fault with, she also has so much good in her. Harper is a good person to whom bad things have happened. She is confused, she is angry, and she has every right to be. Her personality is difficult to explain, simply because it is so multi-dimensional and believable. I think Harrington has done a phenomenal job of truly capturing the human spirit, teenage confusion, and adolescent urge of finding who you truly are in Harper. In many ways, I understand why some readers may not like Harper’s narration or her voice, but I completely fell in love with it. It’s nothing like you’ve ever read before and I do absolutely no justice to its brilliance and eloquence, but it manages to speak volumes in all its egregious imperfections and subtle beauty.

However, Harper, despite being the main character, was not the only person in this book to make it tick. Laney, Harper’s best friend, is the type of best friend you want to have. She is loyal, understanding, and portrayed in a very realistic manner. The dynamics between her and Harper felt very real to me and quite typical of any close friendship. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t as if they fought either. They had their casual tiffs, their small misunderstandings, and their difficulties understanding what each other was going through, but isn’t that was friendship is truly about? Furthermore, Laney isn’t simply there as Harper’s friend. She has her own problems, own difficulties, and own tragedies that she has to cope with and, being her best friend, they affect Harper too. The manner in which their lives overlapped despite experiencing different obstacles made their relationship take on an extremely realistic quality that simply made it all the better, stronger, and firmer.

I fear I’ve been using the word “realistic” far too much in this review, but when I think of Saving June, that’s the first word that comes to mind. So much of why this novel was a success to me was because of its relate-ability, it’s power to suck me in and make me forget that I wasn’t Harper myself. Contemporary novels are meant to be believable, and although they often are, they don’t quite make you forget that you’re reading. Saving June on the other hand, completely made me forget that I was reading a fictional world with fictional characters in it. Each and every character was so well thought out, well developed, and their personalities were all so reasonable that I could not help but be in utter awe of Harrington. As an aspiring author, I would love to see her pre-planning for this novel because there had to have been a great deal of thought put into these characters for this story to have been so enjoyable.

Speaking of enjoyable, didn’t I just enjoy meeting Jake! ;) Jake seems to be your typical male protagonist: swoon-worthy, sings, plays guitar, and pulls off a fedora perfectly. Yet, he is so much deeper than that. I think what surprised me the most about Jake’s personality was that it was just as flawed as Harper and Laney’s characters were. Jake can be impossibly sweet and understanding, but he can also be unreasonable and angry. He can be passionate about music and lecture for hours about incredible bands, but he can also clam up and refuse to answer your questions if he wants to. Usually, the male protagonist tends to be aloof at first, then becomes completely sweet, then aloof again after a misunderstanding, and then romantic once the novel is ending. Jake however, was cranky, rude, and annoying at random moments in the story, all while being kind, sweet, and humorous at other times. This quality about him not only floored me in its realism, but it also made me love him all the more. Jake isn’t a perfect human being and he is bound to lash out at others and say things without thinking at times. His arguments with Harper were not simply witty banter, sometimes they were genuine arguments. I don’t think I’ve loved a relationship as much as I loved the one between these two because it was slow, building up on the tension between them, and occurred only after a complete understanding of each others personalities. A lot of their relationship was very one-step-forward-two-steps-back, but never in an annoying or irritating way. It was that way because of Harper’s mixed feelings, her confusing thoughts, and her unknown decisions regarding everything in her life. Another aspect of their relationship I loved was that Harrington never shied away from teenage sex and furthermore, she never made it romanticized. It was awkward, it was cute, it was what it was. I could very possibly go on gushing about the relationship between these two – the way in which they understand each other perfectly, the way in which they see something about the other that they can’t see themselves, the way in which they can change each other for the better and inspire each other – but we’d be here forever. Just know that this is a relationship that won’t disappoint and it’s slow build-up is a thrill to read.

That being said, I realize that I still haven’t spoken about the most important aspect of this novel: June’s suicide. To be perfectly honest, I want to just skip this subject entirely, but that wouldn’t be fair to this book. June’s suicide is a large and integral part of this story and there are very few moments in the book where Harper doesn’t think about the death of her sister. Saving June is, in many ways, more than just a road-trip book. It is a book about trying to find the answers to why people commit suicide and I think it succeeds completely in this aspect. Does that mean that this novel comes up with one definite reason for which people take their own life? No, absolutely not. In fact, the ending almost seems like a cop-out because of the lack of certainty about anything to do with June. Yet, that was what I liked the most about it. No one knows why other people commit suicide and, as human beings, we can’t know or find out. For each person it is different and all we can do is come to terms with it, like what Harper did throughout this novel. As the reader, we think that Harper’s journey is taking her closer to the truth behind her sister’s death, but in reality, it is taking Harper closer to her own acceptance of this tragedy. By the end of the novel, we do not know why June committed suicide, but we do know that it was no rash decision on her part and that she is in a happier place. We know that Harper is stronger than June ever was and to me, those lessons of strength and hope and persevering on are what make this book a truly incredible read.

I remember thinking yesterday that maybe I should turn down the rating for this book by a star or at least half-a-star, but this book deserves the full five-stars it’s getting. Not only were the characters realistic, their development inspiring, and the themes hopeful, but the writing was beautiful and touching in a way that few things ever are. Saving June is a book that wraps you in grief and laughter and worry and joy and sorrow and happiness all at once. It’s never boring, it never over-whelms you with sadness, and it keeps you on your toes, not only in terms of the destinations along the road trip but especially during the romance. In some ways, Saving June is almost the perfect kind of contemporary romance; the type that affects you, yet keeps everything real and believable and slow and achingly sweet. I fell in love with nearly every aspect of this book and I would read it again in a heartbeat. In fact, the only thing I could think after finishing it was how beautiful it was, how real, how true…Harrington creates characters that are hard to understand, that are wrought with flaws and imperfections, yet she breathes life into them, making them lovable, realistic, and gorgeously perfect despite their tragedies and misgivings. I can only hope that others too will enjoy and cherish this book just as much as I did. Thus, I will leave you with a short, rather cryptic, but memorable quote from this beautiful novel: don't let the bastards grind you down. ;)

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