For What It's Worth

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: Saving June by Hannah Harrington

‘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. (YA - Contemporary, Fiction)

I'm not sure how exactly to describe Saving June. I think it defies being pigeon holed into one particular genre. It's a story about grief, despair and death. However, it's also a story about joy, discovery and living. Then just to defy description again, Saving June is a hilarious road trip adventure filled with a nostalgic nod to the power of music to change and heal a fractured soul.

"He took his pain and turned it into something beautiful. Into something that people connect to. And that's what good music does. It speaks to you. It changes you." Jake speaking about Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven.

Harper's older sister June commits suicide leaving Harper shattered. June was always the perfect over achieving sister, at least in Harper's eyes, and now she wonders what signs she missed, regrets her last words spoken to June and wonders what her place in her broken family is.

While Harper's divorced parents are arguing over how to split June's ashes, she hatches a plan to grant June one last wish. June's dream was always to go to California. Harper, her best friend Laney and a mysterious boy named Jake take June's urn and embark on a road trip to take June to her final destination and discover truths about themselves along the way.

This is where this review gets dicey for me. There are things I adored about Saving June. I mean really LOVE! The prose is beautiful. Harrington is a truly gifted writer. I read the book in under 8 hours, I was fully engrossed.

However…..the characters were all fairly selfish. Harper stole her sister's ashes. I could never shake that fact. I deliberately had to shove that in the back of mind so I didn't think of how agonizing it must have been for her mother to have not only lost one daughter, but to also lose the choice of how to dispose of her ashes PLUS have your only remaining daughter missing with only a note and a "trust me" to go on.

Laney the best friend is described as a free spirit, always looking for adventure, willing to skinny dip with total strangers, and having random hook ups. She's an incredible and loyal best friend that I liked a lot but OMG how I worried about her safety. There is nothing fun about getting trashed on Tequila and swimming naked in the ocean at night with two other total strangers when you are 16 years old. 

As Jake says: "A bunch of drunk kids skinny-dipping in the middle of the night. That'll end well."

I'm not sure if it's my age (46) or something else. I think these things do happen and I was not a perfect teenager….at all… but I felt these kids were engaged in some pretty dangerous behaviors. I know I was just supposed to go with the free spirit - this is a fun road trip, coming of age, adventure of a lifetime feeling but I just couldn't relax about it and have fun as I think the author intended. I do want to point out that lessons are learned and there are a few consequences but for the most part these kids lucked out.

Jake is a really nice, quirky guy who is REALLY into music. Mostly old. Meaning I'm old because it was all the music I grew up with. The Rolling Stones, ABBA, Tom Waite, The Doors…. Just put on a song and Jake Tolan will tell the story behind the song and the artist. Consider him your personal VH1 Behind the Music narrator. I think this was my favorite part of the book. He's incredibly patient with Harper (even when he's snapping at her) and has his own reasons for wanting to be on this trip. His connection to June is kept vague for much of the book. I enjoyed his relationship with Harper and Laney. He called them out on their bullshit even though he needs to be called out on occasion too (which Harper does quite well).

There were tone shifts throughout the book that threw me a bit also. I would be reading a philosophical debate about the existence of God and then the next scene would be about going Fridgehenge at a dump. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

Saving June was one of those really unique reading experiences for me. I loved all the characters, yet I was horrified by some of their behavior. I felt the ending was way too neat and tidy but I finished the book with a wide smile on my face.

Much as the book defies description, so does my reaction to reading it.

Yeah - I know that doesn't make much sense or help you decide if you want to read it or not but that's how I felt. I will say three of my blogger friends put Saving June on their top reads for the year if that helps.

My final thought after I put the book down was to run to listen to music for hours non stop. I tweeted this: "Saving June by Hannah Harrington makes me want to listen to every song ever written and have Jake Tolan explain every one of them to me."

Rating: 2 out of 4 or wait.....4 out of 4?? I just don't know….I'm still thinking about it…..I felt a jumble of emotions when I finished. 

Hannah Harrington can be found on | twitter.
Buy the book! Amazon
Source: BEA
Harlequin Teen May 1, 2011


  1. Oh what a great review! I enjoyed the points you've made even though I didn't read this yet. I plan to soon and I'm not a teenager myself and often I find how they act in books is NOT like I remember teenagers acting.

    Xpresso Reads

  2. I just picked this one up from NetGalley. It is so hard to write a review when you have mixed feelings about the book. Thanks for your thoughts on it, I am eager to see how I will feel about it now!

  3. Great review even though the mixed feelings on it. Sounds like a good music was the thing. Oh yeah being a free spirit has its consquences :(

  4. Truly mixed feelings about this one. So i do not know, those good things sound wonderful, those bad things sounds like deal breakers

  5. It soudns super creative, and I go gaga for books where people discuss and dissect music and lyrics. But yeah. I know it's not for me because of the selfishness and the riskiness. I'm 25 and a total mother hen, so I can't endure watching all that wild teen behavior. :-)

    Way over 2000 followers, woot!

  6. I thought I would have a more emotional reaction from it but it just did not happen. And Karen, I felt the same way! i could not get over how she took the ashes. She was way too selfish for my liking!

  7. Nice review! I haven't heard about this book until now. Sounds good and you got me with this line "the power of music to change and heal a fractured soul."

    And I completely agree with you about the dangerous behavior part. I'm not a teenager but I like to think I'm young LOL and I can't agree with that kind of behavior, one thing is be a free spirit and enjoy life and another completely different is be reckless (even if you are a teen and all that. I was a saint as a teenager, ridiculously saint.)

    Great review, really. Even if you had mixed feelings you point out what you liked and dislked. I want to read it now :)

    P.S: wow, forgive my long comment. I do that all the time.

  8. I see why you'd be concerned for their safety if that's what's going on, no doubt. And I'm technically still a teen (19), but I'm sure those things happen and I'm always worried sick when my sister at 16 are out running around with people you or she barley knows! I'm really glad you still got connected enough to care so much for them though. I'm curious about it, but I'm still not sure if it's a read for me. Something to think about!

    Rebecca @ Kindle Fever

  9. Ooh, great review! I've heard some mixed things about this one, but not mixed in one review! I can TOTALLY see what you mean about certain things that bothered you or sat wrong. I haven't read this one yet, but have been looking forward to it for a while. I'm totally going to have to make this one happen soon!!

  10. You don't have a FF post, so I'm forced to re-comment on an existing post! :-D My life is so hard.

    I don't particularly want books for Christmas, either. I do, but I don't. It's complicated.

  11. DANG IT, just give it 4 out of 4 and be done with it, lol.

  12. On a funny note, isn't it funny how different people view things? While Harper stealing her sister's ashes was selfish, I really thought she was doing the right thing. In her heart of hearts, she felt like it's what her sister wanted.

  13. Great review. I may have to read this book! I have a similar problem with YA contemporary and not being YA myself. (In fact, I have teenagers.) My perspective is wrong. So I sometimes cringe at teens being teens because I think of all the things that can go wrong. I can't help reading from a mom's POV. It requires conscious effort to turn off that mom's voice to enjoy the book.

  14. They call me Dr. Worm, good morning, how are you? I'm Dr. Worm. I'm not a real doctor.

  15. Nice review! I haven't heard about this book until now. Sounds like a emotional story its a good one. I am going to read this very soon. Thanks for sharing the post.

  16. Aw, I'm sorry you were having issues deciding on a rating! I liked it quite a bit, though I can see how it might be hard to connect to some of the characters.

  17. This is a book worth reading. It's inspirational, yet sad. Harper is really determined to help get her sister what she had wanted her entire life.