Jenna is smart, popular, happy, and dating. A far cry from her elementary days when she was an unpopular social pariah. She's come a long way and it isn't by chance - she's worked hard for it. Changing her appearance, changing her attitude, working on making herself someone people would actually want to be friends with. And its worked - she's got a couple of great friends and a boyfriend that the other girls at school covet. So when Cameron, her best (and only) friend from elementary school suddenly reappears in her life she's not sure how to react. Not only did he disappear one day without even a good-bye, but how to explain his role in her life without outing herself as the loser she was and might still be under all that polish.
Sweethearts ripped my heart out. That's how I felt when I was reading. Like the author put a clamp on my heart and kept tightening it. Jenna went through some terrible times in elementary school. She was ruthlessly teased by her classmates - and man, the teasing was so spot on. Even though this is a work of fiction, someone out there has done these exact things. I hurt for her. She was a girl without a support system. Her mom worked hard and went to school at night leaving Jenna alone most of the time. The only thing that made her life worth living was Cameron. They had a special friendship that was absolutely beautiful to read about. They were there for each other in every way, at least they were until the day he disappeared without any explanation. And when that happened my heart broke right along with Jenna's.
So the fact that Jenna is so worried when Cameron reemerges is completely understandable. She has internalized so much of the psychological trauma that she experienced on the playground she's felt like a loser ever since, albeit now she's a secret loser - no one at her high school realizes it. Her feelings of conflict were very believable. One the one hand she is dying to know what happened to him, why he disappeared, where he went, why he came back. But on the other hand she doesn't know how to explain his importance to her new friends without letting them know that she was a social outcast. And she's afraid that if she tells them that they won't like her anymore. That's basically the crux of the novel. Its not a love story per se, but a story that deals with love, friendship, support, acceptance, and courage.
The character development was superb. We learn about Jenna first as she's the main character. I loved how the author dealt with her present and also showed us memories of her past. Cameron, her childhood friend and sweetheart, is an emotionally damaged boy who even though he is frustrating is still swoon worthy. Not quite as swoon worthy as Marcus Flutie from Sloppy Firsts, but he's still high up there on my teen swoon meter. Jenna's stepfather was another strong character that I fell in love with simply because he was so calm and supportive.
The book didn't end like I thought it would, in fact I'd say it was rather unpredictable. And completely realistic. Not something you often find in YA literature where authors too often want to tie everything together and end on a happy everything is perfectly resolved note. That's not to say the book doesn't end on a high note, it just isn't perfectly resolved. Which made me love it all the more.
2008 is shaping up to be a year with some amazing books. I can't tell you how happy I am about that.