Received from NetGalley
From the BLURB:
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.
June is dead and only her sister, Harper, remains. There are no answers to June’s suicide – no warning, no note, no explanation. Suffocating in the house where her overbearing aunt is overseeing the Scott family’s grief, Harper is stuck in the aftermath of tragedy. Her mother cries all the time, and her absentee father is continuing to pretend like his first family was just a false start.
Harper’s best friend, Laney, offers some comfort. But Laney has secrets and problems of her own to deal with, in the wake of June’s suicide.
Then there’s the boy … the mysterious, dishevelled beautiful boy who made a cameo appearance at June’s funeral. His name is Jake Tolan. He and his brother work at a music shop in town. But he's not anyone that Harper can imagine June hanging out with … except they did. Jake gave June a mix-tape. She tutored him. They have history. But Harper doesn’t know the first thing about Jake Tolan or what he meant to her sister. But she’s about to.
June is dead but she still has wishes to be carried out – like getting to California. Which is exactly what Harper, Laney and Jake are going to do – take June’s ashes and get her the hell out of dodge, and fulfilling her final wish.
‘Saving June’ was the 2011 debut contemporary YA novel from Hannah Harrington.
To be fair, I put off reading this novel for a long time because I thought I had read it before. It’s just a sucky coincidence that 2010-11 were a big two years for deaths in young adult fiction. Jandy Nelson’s ‘The Sky is Everywhere’, ‘Please Ignore Vera Dietz’ by A.S. King. ‘Sing Me To Sleep’ by Angela Morrison. And many, many others. I sort of thought that ‘Saving June’ was a little bit ‘been-there-read-that’. Regardless, credible reviewers kept recommending this one to me and I eventually caved … and I’m glad I did.
The novel begins at June’s funeral. She committed suicide and her sister Harper muses on the perceived ‘ripple effect’ suicides seem to have on a small town – people are keeping their eye on Harper, especially, lest she follow her sister’s fate. While at the funeral a mysterious and cute boy drops by and exchanges some cryptically non-sympathetic words with Harper.
Harper is stuck in her grief. June left no suicide note, so part of Harper’s stagnation is merely in asking herself ‘why?’. There are no answers to June’s seemingly senseless death, no clue to her state of mind or breaking point. It’s a particularly maddening sort of grief when there is no closure offered. But in the wake of her sadness Harper finds evidence of June’s last true wish – to move to California. So, come hell or high water, Harper is going to get her sister to California whatever it takes.
From here the novel turns into not-your-average road-trip saga. Along for the ride is Harper’s steadfast friend, Laney, a boisterous, curvaceous girl and loyal friend who will do anything to help Harper get closure.
Also coming along for the adventure is Jake Tolan, the mysterious boy from June’s funeral. Turns out, June tutored Jake and helped him graduate. Jake owes June a debt of gratitude – and since he has the van (affectionately named ‘Joplin’) – the girls agree to him tagging along.
The road to California is paved with good tunes, messy company and hard truths.
‘Saving June’ is a grief road-trip. Armed with June’s ashes Harper, Laney and Jake set out along the coast. They meet up with some of Jake’s old activist friends. They learn secrets about one another and listen to good tunes and guilty pleasures (ABBA, I’m looking at you).
Music is a big component of this book. Unfortunately it’s also a big aspect of other books that are already similar to ‘Saving June’ (Nelson and Morrison’s books in particular). But in ‘June’ the appreciation comes from listening to good music, as opposed to creating it. Jake is into old rock and punk. He likes vintage tunes and has a little something to say about all the greats – from Janis Joplin to the Kinks and Jimi Hendrix. True, this is the music your dad listens to, but Jake has good taste and a connection to these soulful golden-oldies;
“It's just nice, I guess. Knowing that someone else can put into words what I feel. That there are people who have been through things worse than I have, and they come out on the other side okay. Not only that, but they made some kind of twisted, fucked-up sense of the completely senseless. They made it mean something. These songs tell me I'm not alone. If you look at it at that way, music... music can see you through anything.”
When the trio set out it’s initially all about finding closure for Harper and paying respect to June. But by the end Laney has a secret unearthed and Jake reveals a little about his sad past.
I loved the soundtrack to ‘Saving June’. Tensions boil over, laughs are had and hip-hop debated, all while listening to ‘Ruby Tuesday’, ‘Good Vibrations’ and the like.
Something I really loved about ‘Saving June’ was the lack of insight into June’s suicide. For some people this might be frustrating – there are no definite answers or explanations as to why June took her own life. But that felt true. If Harrington makes readers feel frustration from not knowing, I’d say that’s something that speaks volumes about the real-life grief of losing someone to suicide. I feel like Harrington gained more from saying less, and that was a little bit of brilliance.
I can’t lie and say that ‘Saving June’ was a wholly original novel, but it was enjoyable regardless. Death will forever fascinate us, and it’s especially poignant for young people who start encountering the fallout at such an early age. Music as catharsis is also nothing new to the teen scene – even if many readers will be hearing about some of the music in ‘Saving June’ for the first time. But I liked the road-trip aspect of this novel – and the ashes to California was a poignant mission for Harper to accomplish.