Author(s): Emery Lord
Publication date: 1st June 2017
Series or standalone?: standalone
Source: I received a NetGalley copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Lucy Hansson was ready for the 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, this time for troubled kids, Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Thrown into a world of broken rules, close-knit coworkers and energetic third graders, she attempts to regain her footing while keeping her Sundays with her mom to herself. But she’s not the only one with secrets, and she may find that in the summer she thought she needed it least, her new world – and the people in it – could be what she needs most.
The Names They Gave Us is a considered and highly engaging exploration of the summer one confident but somewhat sheltered teenager’s world is turned upside down. It surprises and endears at every turn. It’s character-driven but delivers on plot as well as premise. It’s warm and heartfelt, but also serious, thoughtful and, occasionally, heartbreaking. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, but it really blew me away. I gave Lord’s last book quite a high rating (you can read my review of When We Collided here), but I’m glad I left room for just a little more for this standalone.
Capable, put-together Lucy finds herself thrown by the recurrence of her mother’s cancer and by her dependable, upright boyfriend’s subsequent checking out of their relationship. When an old friend seeks an emergency replacement for a counsellor who quit at the summer camp across the lake, Lucy agrees at her mother’s request. At first feeling both out of place and way out of her depth, Lucy must navigate a new world where kids who have seen too much could do with someone on their side. Kind, accepting, hard-working Lucy is a well-realised protagonist. She does her best in the face of challenges and is slowly realising she is in a place where it is okay to feel as she does – angry, conflicted, afraid, imperfect – and what’s more, where new friends and unexpected allies will feel it with her.
Among them are fellow counsellors like friendly Anna, guarded Keely, and outgoing Tambe, and of course, there’s the bespectacled, lively, flawed love interest Henry Jones. Lucy and Jones actually spend time together and get to know each other – their shared talent for music and devotion to the campers are particular highlights – and go from sweet romance to gorgeous relationship. I liked seeing Lucy trying to figure out her young charges, too, whether by teaching shy Thuy to swim to giving Nadia a shoulder to lean on.
The Names They Gave Us is filled with the requisite moments of plot and drama, secrets and revelations, humour and heartbreak. Frank, compassionate and empathetic, its vivid portrayal of characters’ multifarious, and sometimes traumatic, experiences is exemplified by Lord’s unabashed confrontation of themes as varied as grief, sexuality, gender identity and religion. The sensitivity with which Lord depicts faith allows her to capture both Lucy’s belief and struggles. It’s also YA with present parents in the shape of Lucy’s mom and open, good-natured pastor dad. The ending is quite rushed and abrupt, and the prose style is a little choppy, but the book is absorbing from start to finish. A worthy choice for what is, at the time of writing, only my second five star rating of the year.
I adored this book. For fans of Sara Barnard and Sarah Dessen, this is feel-good, heart-rending contemporary, with a well-written romance and a story that sweeps you away.