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Saving June

Saving June - Hannah Harrington Whenever I think about this book, ‘Start Me Up’ by the Rolling Stones starts playing in my head – and for me, this is never a bad thing. Actually, I think I may have bumped up my rating slightly as a result of the music liberally referenced through the story. (Nice use of the Doors, Hannah Harrington.) Bonus: Playlists! Yes and thank you. While the story opens at the wake for Harper Scott’s sister June, this isn’t exactly a book about suicide. It’s about grief and regret, the aftermath of the decision of a family member to take their own life, and how Harper’s quest to do one last thing for June might just save her own life. And yes, also about music. Harper, her best friend Laney and a taciturn guy with a connection to June embark on a road trip from Michigan to California with June’s ashes. And while the road trip delivers its own bizarre encounters and landmarks (hi, Fridgehenge!), it’s really the backdrop for the gradual unfolding and development of the characters as they come to terms with June’s departure from their lives, and with each other. What set this book apart from other coming-of-age, grief stories for me was the blunt honesty it was presented in. I didn’t feel like the prose was deliberately trying to pull at my heart strings or manipulate my feelings about the characters. They were realistically presented complete with flaws and not-always-sympathetic behaviour, without over-angsting in the process. At the same time, it is completely engaging story that I felt invested in the entire time I was reading it. The interactions between the three main characters really worked and there was tangible chemistry (*cough* Jake *cough*) that grew throughout the pages. While I appreciate that the dialogue between them may not be entirely representative of the 16 to 18 year old population in general, I thought it was true to their characters, and it had me laughing out loud at times (while on public transport no less). Harrington’s writing was fluid and compulsively readable, and she nailed the spectrum of emotion Harper moves through in response to her sister’s suicide. Alongside the heavy subject matter the story deals with, it’s also high on the swoon scale, and despite some fairly jerk-ish behaviour, Jake is also a multi-dimensional character with personality rather than being a token hot-guy cardboard cutout. Harper’s ambivalence toward him was believable and the mounting tension was crafted for a maximum impact payoff. In addition to the back and forth between Harper and Jake, which will have readers flipping pages eagerly, I also appreciated the way his attitude towards Laney changed. From a particularly “oh no you didn’t” scene, to the gradual and subtle gestures of apology, it tackled issues of judgement and misconception.I had a minor quibble with a plot point towards the very end of the book – not that it wasn’t within the realm of the possibility – but it seemed a little.. neat? The situation seemed to be resolved conveniently in time for the ending of the book, but I do appreciate that Harrington alluded to the ongoing emotional repercussions of the event. Ultimately, Saving June was a touching, funny, painful book with a lot of realism and heart. It’s an upper YA read doesn’t flinch from difficult topics, and there are some beautifully written scenes that deal honestly with what it is to grieve and not always have an answer to the ‘why’s?’ presented by suicide.