Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

I received this book for free from ALA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery LordThe Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 16, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: ALA
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four-half-stars

Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters—in faith, in love, and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp—one for troubled kids—Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?

To date, Emery Lord has not disappointed me with any of her novels. Some were more directly up my specific alley (The Start of Me and You) and some less so (When We Collided), but they’ve all been really well done books with excellent characterization and emotional resonance. In some ways, The Names They Gave Us is Lord’s best book yet, though I can’t say it was my personal favorite.

For the first few chapters, I feared The Names They Gave Us would be the first Lord book not to work for me. I found it impossible to read more than a chapter or two, because the pain leaking off the pages was way too much for me to take. Lucy’s mom fought off cancer once, but it’s come back, sending Lucy into a crisis of faith on top of being incredibly sad and scared at the possibility of loving her beloved mom. I guess the problem here is that Lord is way too good at characterization and I felt Lucy’s pain way too much despite the fact that I’ve not lived through any of that. As such, I want to warn that this book will likely be massively triggering for people who have lost parents, especially to cancer.

However, for all the pain of the opening, the weakness of the book, ironically, ended up being that the cancer plot does get shunted off to the side. I’m grateful, but it’s also a bit strange how the fact that Lucy’s mom is potentially dying of cancer gets shunted off to the side, serving as basically a frame story for Lucy’s nigh idyllic summer at camp. I much prefer reading about that, and I know people grieve and cope in different ways, but the lack of her mom in most of the book and the precise way (View Spoiler ») it ended was odd to me.

The Names They Gave Us also made me feel like a bit of an asshole, because, as a reader, I was actually really glad that Lucy was suffering so much. If she hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have been interested in her at all. Her unshakable faith and her boring, perfect, shitty, Christian boyfriend would have bored the shit out of me. I much prefer the questioning Lucy, full of rage at a God who would do this to her mother again. Solid, unshakable faith isn’t narratively interesting, and it’s also not a considered belief. At the start, Lucy isn’t the sort of Christian I can really respect (like her casual judgment of the “hippie” camp, for example, but by the end, she is). Religious stories can be a struggle for me, but this one worked for me. Lucy’s faith remains crucial to her, but she loses that judgment of people who have different ways of being.

Lucy’s mother doesn’t want Lucy watching her decline and urges her to work as a counselor at Daybreak instead of her father’s church camp. Lucy doesn’t want to lose the time with her mom or have to spend summer at a secular camp, but she ultimately goes. Unsurprisingly, it’s hard but also the best thing that ever happened to her. She makes her first real friends ever, discovers what true romantic feelings are like, and learns so much about mental health.

Everything at camp, I absolutely loved. It’s a camp for people with issues of some sort, so there could be constant tragedy, but it’s also a camp of acceptance and learning how to move on and how to deal. All the campers and all of the counselors gave me so many feels. So many tiny moppets who need so much love. (You know this isn’t my thing but oh Lord got me.)

The friendships Lucy forms are so real. I adore her immediate bond with Anna. Actually, I just adore Anna in general, for her anxiety and the fact that she’s a transgender character who isn’t just there to be transgender. I love Anna’s little sideship-to-be too. Write that book, Emery!!! No surprise either that I ship the hell out of Jones and Lucy. They’ve got this little slow burn thing and it’s an adorable interracial romance and his family is so cute and just yes all across the board.

Elements of The Names They Gave Us were really difficult for me, and I feel like it lost focus a bit, but it also gave me absolutely all the feelings. Seriously, Lord, a book about Tambe and Anna would make my life!

Favorite Quote:

“But I’d also be angry with you. I would crawl to wherever you were, emotionally, so that you wouldn’t feel alone.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

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