First impressions: Can Harper be my new book BFF? In the first few scenes she is funny, irreverent, rebellious, and sympathetic. She is the most authentic teenager I've read, perhaps ever.
Lasting impressions: Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Magical. Hilarious. Although this one hit close to home for me, it was wonderfully cathartic.
Conflicting impressions: I can't think of anything that didn't work for me in this book.
Overall impressions: Harper has lived in the shadow of her sister her whole life, unable to understand why she doesn't have June's innate ability to exceed everyone's expectations. Feeling like the loser letdown of a daughter, Harper has carefully constructed a persona to match her perceived failings - black nail polish, a wall of truancy and detention slips, smoking cigarettes. June is the golden child and she is the black sheep, invisible to her warring parents.
When June commits suicide, there is no note, and everyone struggles to understand why she did it. Harper feels the weight of being the one that's left, and has a hard time shaking the feeling that everyone thinks the wrong sister died. While going through her sister's things, Harper finds a mix CD that June had been listening to right before she died, as well as a postcard of California - the one place June had always wanted to go.
Jake Tolan is a boy who seems to have no ties to June, but shows up at the wake. After Harper discovers June was tutoring him, and that he works in a record store, she realizes he made the mix CD. Soon Harper, Jake, and Harper's best friend Laney have concocted a plan to drive to California and put June's ashes to rest in the place where she wanted to belong. June wanted nothing so much as to escape the pressures of life and family, and to be free to do and be whatever she wanted, and Harper is determined to make that happen as a final gift to her sister.
As Harper experiences impromptu protests, concerts, and landmarks, and shares these exciting adventures with new people, she begins to find herself. The road trip experience is full of powerful moments that reveal things about her desires and strengths, as well as her feelings about her sister. We don't watch Harper change as a result of the trip, we watch her discover that the person she has been all along is nothing less than her sister. She has always been strong and capable, but her fears and insecurity colored her perception of herself.
Harper is without a doubt one of the best characters I read this year. I related to her and her struggles on so many levels, from her inability to cry at a funeral, to her need to just run away from it all and so something meaningful for the person she feels she failed the most. Hannah Harrington has written a girl so complete that I had a hard time believing she wasn't real. Harper lives far beyond these pages, showing us the way teenaged girls really think and feel.
This book is one that will definitely stick with me. With a love story that seemed genuine in its slow growth, and an exploration of music through the eyes of Jake Tolan that provides a perfect soundtrack to Harper's journey, this one is full of life and memories. For anyone who's lost someone close to them, especially from suicide, this is a cathartic story that allows us to process our feelings alongside Harper. This is a powerful treasure that should not be missed.
Rating: 5/5 stars