Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 16th 2017
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?
(Before I start my review, I wanna say a quick thank you to Brooke @ Brooke Reports for sending this ARC my way!)
Oh, you guys. This book. THIS. BOOK. I’ve had hit or miss luck with Emery Lord in the past– I thought Open Road Summer and When We Collided were just okay, but her novel The Start of Me and You is one of my all-time favorite books and means more to me than I can articulate. I’m so happy to say that The Names They Gave Us completely reaffirmed my love of Emery Lord’s writing. It affected me emotionally in a way that a book hasn’t in a long while– after reading the last page, I closed the book, sat in my bed, and sobbed for a solid 15 minutes. Not just crying– I’m talking full-on bawling like a child. Not because the book was sad, but because this story and these characters affected me so much on a deep emotional level.
The Names They Gave Us follows our main character, Lucy, over the course of a summer. Instead of going to help out at her family’s Bible camp, as she usually does every summer, her mother (who has just been diagnosed with cancer) sends Lucy to the neighboring Camp Daybreak, a camp for children and teens processing grief or dealing with some sort of “baggage” (as another character puts it). Not only is Lucy processing her mother’s relapse of cancer and being in an unfamiliar setting, but her boyfriend of many years has decided to “pause” their relationship for the summer. So, it’s safe to say that Lucy grapples with lots of change and uncertainty throughout the novel. As someone who is not and never has been religious, I am always hesitant of books where the protagonist is heavily religious. However, I thought Lucy’s experiences with her Christian faith were presented sensitively, without feeling preachy at all. She goes through struggles with her faith, which I think is super common for teens going through big changes in their lives. I love that Lord chose to portray this in YA. In fact, Lucy goes through tremendous character growth in general over the course of the book, not just in terms of her faith. I think this is a huge reason why I cried so much at the end of the book– I just felt so PROUD of Lucy, and I felt like I had gone on this journey with her. Her voice as a narrator feels unbelievably genuine.
I adored the cast of characters in this one. Lucy’s family plays a huge part in the story, of course (also, yay for only children in YA who are super close with their parents! this was totally me growing up.), and I loved their relationship to their daughter and to each other. The people I loved most, though, were Lucy’s fellow counselors at Camp Daybreak. They were a wonderfully diverse group of people, and their love for each other made me so happy. They were fantastic friends to one another. I especially loved the friendships that developed between Lucy and Anna and Lucy and Keely. I totally want to be a part of their squad. Emery Lord’s ability to write friendships, in my opinion, represents one of the biggest strengths of her writing. She also excels at writing the friends-to-more romance… which brings me to my next point. I love that the romance in The Names They Gave Us, while completely swoonworthy, was not the main focus of the book. It was more like it was a result of Lucy coming into herself, as opposed to being the sole reason Lucy found herself. Ya feel? That being said, Henry Jones is totally a new book boyfriend of mine. Yay for nerdy trumpet players!! (Which also reminds me– I loved the role music played in this story. Lucy plays piano, and Henry plays trumpet.)
I already mentioned that this book addresses faith as a main theme, but Lord also addresses themes like friendship, family, dealing with change, and processing grief. I thought The Names They Gave Us explored these themes thoroughly and addressed them thoughtfully. The plot of the story is simple– it follows Lucy through her day-to-day life at Daybreak– but it’s written so well that you feel like you’re there at the camp with Lucy. This helped me connect to her as a character so much more, which is why I felt the full force of her emotions and her journey. Daybreak as a setting completely felt like a real place. It jumped off the pages of the story. Every person Lucy interacts with at camp, whether they be campers, her fellow counselors, or the adults who run the camp, felt so real and necessary to the story and to Lucy’s journey.
Overall, I think The Names They Gave Us is a masterful addition to YA contemporary, and I certainly think it’s a must-read. It cements Emery Lord as one of the most valuable voices in the genre, in my opinion. This story clearly comes from her heart, and that’s something that’s impossible not to pick up on as a reader. You won’t be able to read this book without falling a little bit in love with every character. I think the discussion contained in and the changes Lucy goes through will be relatable to everyone, teen or adult. To summarize my overall thoughts: GO READ THIS BOOK! And then come back her so we can cry about it together. 😉
Have you read The Names They Gave Us? If so, did you adore it as much as I did? If not, do you plan to pick it up?