Saving June by Hannah Harrington
Number of pages: 336
‘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.
* * *
I’m late to this party, I know. I’ve had Saving June for a while now, but I put off reading it for no reason other than I didn’t feel like reading it yet. Even in the midst of all the other people singing praises to this book, I just didn’t feel like it yet. It occurred to me as I was making my reading list for this year that I may end up not reading this for a long time if I don’t bump it up my TBR.
‘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.’ June was the perfect daughter, and Harper was kind of okay being in her shadow. As with all siblings, they don’t really get along 100% of the time, but being related to each other, they still connect somehow. Until June kills herself, and it left Harper and her family’s lives in a wreck. There were no signs leading up to June’s suicide, and Harper felt that maybe, maybe if she paid more attention, she would’ve caught it. But she didn’t. Reeling from this, Harper finds some California postcards and a mysterious CD in June’s room, and decides to bring her sister’s ashes to California, where she had always dreamed of going. Then comes Jake Tolan, another equally mysterious guy who works in a music store (and probably owns a gibson at Guitar Center) who shows up at June’s wake. When he hears of Harper’s plans to go to California with her best friend Laney, he offers them a ride for the road trip without really disclosing why he wanted to do it. The three of them head to California, unsure of what exactly to do except that Harper figured that if she couldn’t get there when she was alive, the least she could do for her sister was to bring “her” there.
My initial reaction to Saving June? “Poor Harper.” I don’t know how it feels to lose someone in my immediate family, much less to suicide, but I’m pretty sure it must really suck bad. Harper’s difficulty to grieve on top of her mother’s breakdown just makes it harder, and I don’t know what to make of her. Interestingly, it was kind of easy to forget that Harper’s sister was dead at the start of the story, almost like that was written on purpose. Perhaps it was, too, because every time Harper remembers that June is gone, it’s a reminder for me too, and it makes me wonder how she can deal with all of it.
Hannah Harrington’s characters are really fleshed out in this book — Harper, Jake, Laney, even June. I really like that Laney was with them in the road trip, too, because I think she provided a good balance between Harper and Jake’s chemistry and it made the book not just about the simmering romance but how different people grieve for a friend’s loss.
I also like how the author managed to weave the faith aspect in the story, and I think it captures how a grieving person would think about faith and religion. Harper’s doubts felt authentic but never really disrespectful, and while her Aunt Helen was presented as almost a villain, it wasn’t really exaggerated that it would show people who cling to their beliefs at times of loss as silly. I really liked some of Harper’s musings about it, too:
It must be comforting, to have a faith like that. To believe so concretely that there’s someone — something — out there watching guard, keeping us safe, testing us only with what we can handle. (Kindle location: 331-332)
I get why people have faith in a higher power. Some people need it. They need to believe they’re not alone. (Kindle location: 1983)
I liked how the story was built up — from the various places they stopped at for the road trip, the romance and all the way to the end, when the twist came. The road trip kind of made me laugh — I can’t help but feel that something bad should happen to them brought about by people who just show up in the middle of nowhere. It kind of reminds me of the sort-of road trip part in Mira Grant’s Deadline, where they drove through deserted towns. The scene in New Mexico (I think?) where they stopped at a deserted road kind of made me expect zombies to come shuffling and get them. The romance had that slow burn again, reminiscent to the way the romances in Flat-Out Love and The Truth About Forever were built up. Jake and Harper’s push-and-pull chemistry was entertaining to read, with the potential to leave readers holding their breaths while they wait to see who gives in first.
The twist at the end didn’t really feel like such a big of a shock — I was expecting for a catch to come in after they had finally done what they said they would do. However, the build up and the resolution to it was very good, so it didn’t really bother me that much anymore. I liked how everything wrapped up in the end, and I think Saving June‘s ending was close to perfect for me.
(Caution: This may be a bit spoilery since this part comes somewhere at the end of the book, but I can’t not share it)
Maybe it’s a mistake, maybe I’ll get hurt in the end. But maybe not. I loved June. I still love her, and that will never change, but for the first time in my life, I truly, truly don’t want to be her. I don’t want to be so scared all the time. So alone. I want to believe something can be worth it. Worth the pain. Worth the risk.
Ah. Saving June, you remind me why we all need saving sometimes. Now I understand why this book made it into so many Best Of lists last year.