Saving June by Hannah Harrington

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

Saving June by Hannah HarringtonSaving June by Hannah Harrington
Published by Harlequin Teen on May 1, 2011
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 322
Format: Paperback
Source: YA Books Central
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‘If she’d waited less than two weeks, she’d be June who died in June. But I guess my sister didn’t consider that.’

Harper Scott’s older sister has always been the perfect one so when June takes her own life a week before her high school graduation, sixteen-year-old Harper is devastated. Everyone’s sorry, but no one can explain why.

When her divorcing parents decide to split her sister’s ashes into his-and-her urns, Harper takes matters into her own hands. She’ll steal the ashes and drive cross-country with her best friend, Laney, to the one place June always dreamed of going, California.

Enter Jake Tolan. He’s a boy with a bad attitude, a classic-rock obsession and nothing in common with Harper’s sister. But Jake had a connection with June, and when he insists on joining them, Harper’s just desperate enough to let him. With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanour and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what she needs.

Except June wasn’t the only one hiding something. Jake’s keeping a secret that has the power to turn Harper’s life upside down again.

One of my missions in 2019 has been to read more of the books that I own and get rid of the ones that aren’t for me or aren’t something I would want to reread. This goes book-in-hand with the mission to buy copies of my favorite books that I don’t yet own but that I haven’t had space for because phenomenal library powers but

My reading mission has been super successful in that I’ve stuck to it, gotten rid of a bunch of books, and bought several favorites from the last few years. It’s been unsuccessful in the sense that very few of the books have been good (for me). Saving June totally did not excite me, something I’ll blame that bummer of a cover for, but it turned out to be such a fantastic read, one that will continue to reside in my library.

Saving June came out in 2011, and, though I had a copy gifted to me by YABC back when I used to do work for that site, I didn’t hear too much about it. First thing that impresses me about Saving June is how modern it feels. I realize it was published less than a decade ago, but YA has evolved so much in the last couple of years even, so even books from three or four years ago can feel a bit dated. Elements like the inclusion of LGBT characters (not as MCs but hanging around being awesome), political activism, and the handling of slut-shaming make the landscape feel very current.

Because of the sad-sack of a cover, I’d sort of assumed it would be too depressing to be my sort of book; there’s nothing wrong with a sad book, but that’s not what I’m generally about as a reader. While Saving June does deal with heavy themes, particularly grief and suicide, the book itself wasn’t too heavy. There’s a nice balance between humor and hope and the investigation of those more difficult topics.

The book opens during June’s funeral. The opening chapter perfectly sets the scene and establishes Harper’s character, as Harper reacts (snidely) to the way people deal with those bereaved. Her older sister June was the perfect daughter, with a scholarship to college and many friends, where June has always been the screwup. In the wake of her sister’s suicide, Harper doesn’t really know who to be anymore, especially because her mother has fallen apart and her judgmental, Christian aunt has moved in to help out. Obviously, the book gets into the question of why someone who seemed so perfect and beloved and happy would commit suicide, and it’s all about Harper figuring out who she really wants to be.

Harper’s lost, but she finds meaning in a mission: dispose of her sister’s ashes in California, where her sister wanted to go to college but was not allowed to go for financial reasons. Neither of Harper’s parents would approve of the idea, so she sets off on a road trip with her best friend and a new acquaintance, Jake, who somehow knew her sister well enough to come to the funeral and their house afterward. As is the case with most road trip novels, the journey is as much emotional as physical.

As the three of them travel, Harper learns about other people’s lives, which helps give perspective on her own. She learns more about her sister, about her best friend, and about herself most of all. Every element felt very purposeful, and I thought it all came together to make strong points without being in your face about it.

Along the way, she also starts to feel things for Jake, and omg it’s cute. The adorableness of the romance, one set to a soundtrack of Jake’s ever-present music and musical knowledge, really helped counter-balance the darker parts of the novel. Something that really works here is that neither Harper nor Jake know if college would be the right choice for them, which still isn’t something you see too much in YA when plenty of people do not go to college for various reasons.

Saving June completely rocked, and I’m crushed that Harrington published only one more book in 2012. Usually when a backlist title is this amazing, I get to go read ALL THE THINGS. I’d recommend this for fans of Emery Lord or early Courtney Summers (not discounting more recent Summers but it’s a bit lighter than those).

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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