Every now and then, I see it coming. The mail shows up on a busy afternoon and I know there’s no chance of reading before bedtime, but the book … I stare at it, accepting the knowledge that I’ll finish the book before morning, despite the promise of an enormous reading hangover, despite the understanding that all-nighters cramp some of the story’s potency. It must, and will, be read. Tonight. So it was no surprise to find myself closing the final page of Sara Zarr’s Sweethearts at 1 am—I saw it coming.
From the jacket flap: (Easy way out, yes, but remember the reading hangover? It’s here.) As children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They were also one another's only friend. So when Cameron disappears without warning, Jennifer thinks she's lost the only person who will ever understand her. Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed. Known as Jenna, she's popular, happy, and dating, everything "Jennifer" couldn't be---but she still can't shake the memory of her long-lost friend. When Cameron suddenly reappears, they are both confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken.
Some people cannot stomach Roman Holiday. I mean, he doesn’t get the girl, so what’s the point of the last hour and a half, what’s the point of two people finding each other, learning to love each other, if they’re not going to ride off into the sunset? If you’re one of those people, you’ll dislike Sweethearts. (Yeah, yeah, send me your anti-spoiler hate mail. Whatever.)
There’s a poignancy to the novel, a reminder that life isn’t just about tomorrow. Pascal wrote, “The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so." I remember the first time I saw Roman Holiday … I was dumbfounded. And then I slowly came to realize that the very reason this story would stay with me, swim around my head, refuse to drop out of sight like so many happily-ever-after films, the very reason this story was different was its determination to actually live.
In so much fiction, “the future alone” is the characters’ end goal. Books and movies often allow characters to reach that future point right before the lights cut, ignoring the impossibilities of their attainment. But in real life, and in the best stories, we’re reminded that we are surrounded by unfinished business, and always will be. However, at the same time we’re reminded that sometimes the unfinished business is love.