Book Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
If you want to skip the lengthy review, let me just say this: I love this book and think everyone should read it.
Now for the real review.
Publisher’s Book Description:
Lucy Hansson was ready for a 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—one for troubled kids—Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?
I love this book and think everyone should read it. Yep, that’s where I’m still at with this book.
Lucy begins our story as a devout somewhat conservative Christian with an equally devout and amazing boyfriend. And then the rug is pulled out from under her on prom night when she learns that her mother’s cancer has returned and it is more aggressive then ever. This makes Lucy angry. Angry at the universe, angry at her parents for keeping secrets, but mostly angry at God because she prayed for her mother to be healed and she thought she was and now she isn’t.
Lucy’s rage at God and the questioning of everything she ever believed in is the most real expression of faith I have ever read in a YA novel.
In a deal with her mother – who plays the cancer card – Lucy goes to a summer camp next to her family owned church camp. This camp is for “troubled youth.” She goes to be a camp counselor, but she ends up being helped just as much as the kids she ends up helping. Along the way she meets a pregnant teen, a male to female transgender teen, and a variety of kids struggling with broken homes and issues that our far outside the realm of what she knows. And although Lucy makes many missteps along the way, we see Lucy expressing the grace and compassion that underlines her faith to each and every one of them. In our current reality when people of the Christian faith are often seen yelling down those who are different and calling them monsters, it’s nice to have a Christian character on the page reminding us all what that is supposed to look like. It’s especially nice because we know and understand that she is in fact struggling with her personal faith, but it is still an important part of who she is.
Lucy also meets a new boy who seems capable of handling Lucy’s true expression of emotions, including the doubt and anger that comes with having a severely ill parent. This new boy, Jones, is possibly my favorite boy in YA literature ever. Every teen readers will swoon at Jones, and they should.
There are more family secrets revealed. There are tears. There are lessons to be learned. But they are learned in the most organic and authentic way possible, through rich storytelling, complex character development, and beautifully put together words on a page. At the end Lucy is changed, as is her expression of her faith, but she remains true to who she is every step of the way and it is a beautiful thing.
Faith is very important to both The Teen and I. And I can personally tell you that I have had intense periods of anger at God. It happened when I almost died in pregnancy and lost my baby. It happened when we had to leave our life and move to start over. And this book really spoke to the very core of me. After reading this book I immediately handed it to The Teen who read it that very day. It took her less than 24 hours and she too loved it. We talked about it. We gushed about it. We talked about our faith. We talked about being mother and daughter. We talked about family and boys and love and secrets. I love that this book exists in this world.
Some of my favorite things about this book:
- A healthy, intact family
- Good mother/daughter relationship
- Good friendships
- Authentic faith expression
- Healthy communication about sex
- Richly developed supporting characters, including characters who are not white or cisgender
- Richly developed teens who talk about their feelings and mistakes
I love this book and think everyone should read it, in case you haven’t heard me say that yet.
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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