Title: Saving June
Author: Hannah Harrington
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: 11/22/11
Some books, when finished, leave behind an achy feeling almost like when your best friend who you haven’t seen in years gets back on a plane after a too-short visit. Saving June by Hannah Harrington is definitely one of those books. This book was spectacular. It was completely heartbreaking yet invigorating, and I couldn’t put it down. The story begins with the death of June, a 17-year-old high school senior mere days from her graduation. For reasons that never become completely evident, the perfect and adored June kills herself in the back seat of her car one night. Her less perfect and not so adored 16-year-old sister, Harper, is the one to find her. After dealing with an exhausting wake, dodging her Bible-thumping aunt, and learning that her divorced parents are planning to split June’s ashes the way most parents split custody, Harper decides to take matters into her own hands and give June what she always wanted in life- a chance to live in California.
Harper enlists the help of her best friend, Laney, and the two plan to embark on a journey from Michigan to California to scatter June’s ashes in the sea. Unfortunately, Laney’s car breaks down and they discover they have no way to get there, especially since they’ll essentially be runaways they moment they step foot out of Michigan. The mysterious Jake Tolan, who first appears at June’s wake and acts like a bit of a jerk, pushes his way into the girls’ plans and blackmails Harper into letting him take them all out west. Harper has no idea what Jake was to June and vice versa, and she really doesn’t want anything to do with him, but with no other option, she concedes.
What should be a three-day journey (without stops) ends up taking a bit longer. Although I’m not sure how many days pass in Saving June, it’s definitely more than a week. During the journey, the trio make many unexpected stops and side trips, including one where they’re nearly arrested during an anti-war rally. At first I wondered why they would be making so many stops when they’re on such a monumental journey, but then I realized that the side trips ARE the monumental journey. The end goal is significant, yes, but only in the process of reaching their definition does Harper manage to cope with what happened to her sister.
Music plays a significant role in the story, as Jake is a fan of many genres, and he teaches Harper about the different bands and musicians along the way. He uses different songs and artists to explain life and emotions to Harper, which allows her to suddenly release some of the grief that she’s been holding on to since she found June’s body. The entire story is just stunning. I should note though, that this is definitely not a book for those with more conservative beliefs. Laney, Harper, and Jake are not exactly chaste, rule-abiding teenagers, and there is drinking, smoking, and sex in the book (although nothing graphic on that last one). But underneath all of that is an amazing coming-of-age and coming-to-terms with loss story. Saving June is definitely one of my favorite YA books of the year, and I’ve read a lot of them.
Note- I read this book for free through Netgalley.