Preorder: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
June was always the golden girl, with the perfect grades, perfect friends, perfect boyfriend, perfect life. Or so it seemed. Harper has always lived in her perfect sister's looming shadow -- until, suddenly, she wasn't there. When Harper finds June's lifeless body and the empty bottle of pills, all the truths she thought she knew come crashing down around her. With nothing left to lose, she sets out in search of answers, travelling cross country with June's ashes to fulfill her sister's lifelong wish -- to see California. But Harper may not like the answers that she finds. June wasn't the only one with demons, and the secrets of Harper's unlikely companions, her best friend Laney and an evasive boy with a mysterious connection to June, threaten to tear her world apart.
Saving June by Hannah Harrington is a bittersweet but surprisingly hopeful look at loss and living. Perhaps more accurately titled "Saving Harper," readers are shown Harper's growth into her own skin, forced into the spotlight by the loss of her sister's overwhelming glow. Harper is dark, edgy and cynical, a facade built to be her sister's opposite in every way, but which has grown into a second skin over time. Her snark is surprisingly endearing, especially after seeing the neglect of her parents and the holier-than-thou criticism of her aunt that torment her daily at home. It's clear that Harper's brashness and rashness are a defensive mechanism, and it's easy to see the pain she tries to hide. Though she and June had the same quibbles that plague most sibling rivalries, they were still sisters and shared a bond that even their parents couldn't completely understand -- and its loss echoes to the very last page.
The road trip to California is a quirky and effective, if a little unbelievable (a teenage girl taking off across the country with a guy she doesn't know -- and her parents are only mildly concerned?) method of showing Harper's lesson in living life to its fullest. The places they visit range from the bizarre to the beautiful, the wild to the wistful, and Harper grows as a person with each leg of their journey. Readers will find themselves itching to hit the road with each new adventure, whether it be camping at Fridgehenge and swing dancing in an underground Jazz club or throwing punches in a bar brawl before befriending an indie band. Saving June is vicarious living at its finest.
Giving voice to the things the characters themselves can't quite express, Jake's expansive music collection sets the ever-changing tone of the novel. The music takes meaning from each experience and ties together the vast and various episodes of their journey. Jake is the perfect counterpart to Harper. He's just as damaged and abrasive, and their constant friction sets fire to the novel's tension. They're both in desperate need of someone just as grating to wear down their outer defenses and refuse to tolerate their nonsense. Though their relationship isn't the focus of Harper's journey, it adds another facet to her rich and complex development.
The most important relationship of the novel (after Harper and June's) is Harper and her best friend Laney. Laney is Harper's opposite in ways different than June. She lives large and free, but still has her own hard realities to learn. Thankfully, Harper never forgets about the friend to whom she owes everything while lost in her own grief. It's wonderful to see an unwavering, balanced, lasting friendship in this kind of novel -- Harper and Laney are exactly what the other needs, and they both grow not only as individuals but also as friends over the course of the novel.
Though this story doesn't shy away from the pain and loss and heartache of the situation, it is beautifully tempered by Harper's choice of life where June chose death, and the little moments and special people who make the world worth living in, even in the darkest of times.
Disclosure: I received an advance galley from the publisher for an honest review.
For more about Saving June, check out my character interview with Harper!