First published in Great Britain: 1st June 2012
By: MIRA Ink
'If she'd waited less than two weeks, she'd have been June who died in June. But I guess my sister didn't consider that.'
When sixteen-year-old Harper's sister June, the perfect, popular, pretty one to Harper's also-ran, commits suicide just before her high-school graduation, nothing in Harper's world makes sense anymore.
With her family falling apart, Harper has a plan - steal June's ashes and take her sister to the one place she always wanted to go: California.
Embarking on a wild road trip of impromptu gigs and stolen kisses with mysterious musician Jake, the one person who could hold answers about June, Harper's determined to find peace for her sister.
But will she find peace for herself along the way?
Grief is a common theme in contemporary YA and, while not necessarily breaking any new ground in the genre, Saving June is a solid and worthwhile addition. The book it most reminds me of is Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer, probably because of the friendship between Harper and her best friend Laney.
I struggled to comprehend the character of Harper at first, although in fairness, it's less that she was inconsistently written and more that she was different from what I assumed the character would be. I thought Harper's caustic attitude in the first few pages was a reaction to her sister's funeral, but it turns out that is her personality, dead sister or no.
She's a lot more aggressively snarky than I expected, but I did warm up to Harper, as being a little sister myself, a lot of her thoughts and feelings struck me as realistic. On the whole, I think the strength of Saving June is that the characters feel very real and their dialogue and behaviour seems true to teens. They smoke, they swear, they drink and they're sarcastic to hide their real feelings. Even characters who annoyed me (like the student protestors) reminded me of people I've known.
Another strong point is the palpable sexual tension between Harper and Jake. The heat is coming off the page in some scenes and it would take a very steely reader not to swoon when Jake, say, sways Harper around the floor in a jazz club or sings softly into her ear as she falls asleep. I felt exactly the same way about Jake as Harper did - his deliberate evasiveness about June and his pretension about music bugged me, but I still wanted to jump his pretentious hipster bones. Ahem. Plus, I've gotta love a boy who's an ABBA fan (though, why be embarrassed about it, Jake? If loving ABBA is wrong, then I don't want to be right.).
I did have a problem with the premise of Saving June, though and I think this is where being an adult reader of YA affects my perception. I think scattering somebody's ashes, against their parents' wishes and without allowing the parents to even be there, is a really awful thing to do and it bothered me that none of the teens, or the people who they shared their plan with, seemed to see this. I was hoping the whole time that Harper would have an eleventh hour change of heart and include her parents, but at the end I just had to let it go.
Being a realistic YA novel, which deals with grief and loss, features a roadtrip and places a heavy emphasis on music, means that Saving June should appeal to readers who want more of all these things. For me it was a good read; for someone who's looking for a book which ticks all those boxes, it will be even better.
Rating: 4 stars
This book was provided to me by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review.