Release Date: November 22nd, 2011
Number of Pages: 322
Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Reviewed by: Vanessa 'Sei'
When her older sister commits suicide and her divorcing parents decide to divide the ashes, Harper Scott takes her sister's urn to the one place June always wanted to go: California. On the road with her best friend, plus an intriguing guy with a mysterious connection to June, Harper discovers truths about her sister, herself and life.
Saving June is going to be sat firmly on the 'not my cup of tea' shelf, right alongside my box of Earl Grey. I realise that's a bold statement to make, considering how mercurial my tastes seem to be at any given time, but this book and I seriously did not get along.
The story is about Harper, a teenage girl living in the shadow of her perfect elder sister, June. Soon after their parents get divorced, June commits suicide. After her funeral, an argument breaks out over who will get to keep an urn with the ashes now that their parents have separated. Harper decides to take matters into her own hands, steal June's ashes and drive across the country to scatter them in California. (Huh. Sounds like a more tragic version of the movie-length Nintendo advert The Wizard.) She's joined by her best friend Laney, and a boy named Jake, who June used to be friends with before she died.
Looking at the synopsis alone, you'd expect a really sweet, sentimental story. Harper doesn't sound selfish, she just needs some time away from her hectic family situation to cope with her loss, and Laney could be her shoulder to cry on. It would also be fun to figure out the mystery revolving around Jake's connection to June, considering they ran in completely different crowds and were actually very close friends.
Unfortunately, the novel became a little cluttered with distractions and hipster stereotypes for my liking. Our characters can't just travel all the way to California, they've got to take some detour to a house that some friends are hanging out in. In the first few chapters alone, Harper, Laney and Jake take part in an impromptu protest, and chat with people who are pretty much parodies of protestors. Then we have some more driving, and then a detour to some obscure punk rock band's gig after meeting up with some fellow fans in the desert, then some drama interlaced with a classic/progressive/folk/punk rock soundtrack. (Speaking of the music in this book, there are some really good choices, all of which are featured in three lists at the end of the novel. In fact, they've been compiled into playlists on YouTube, so go check them out.)
For me, the characters didn't feel particularly fleshed-out. It just seemed stuff was happening to them, rather than them making things happen. If that makes sense. In fact, the whole road-trip to California plot reminded me a lot of Paper Towns, by John Green – the characters pile into a van and listen to suitably indie music along the way, and goddamn it, you're going to think they're cool, even if it is a bit of a chore to read.
The punk rock gig and the protest really ought to have been cut out of this novel, because they just didn't add anything, and they were barely mentioned ever again – just little distractions along the way. Sure, it'd be boring if they just drove the entire way without making any interesting little detours, but they should correlate to the story or the characters in some way. Harper went to a protest and got injured. Laney gets pregnant by some dickhead looking for easy sex at the punk rock gig. Then she loses the baby shortly after she and Harper get home. These horrible things happened to them, but didn't exactly help to develop them.
The most character development we get after the first act of the story is the kind of music they all like listening to. Jake seems to be all deep and introspective because he listens to Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Nirvana, and whoever else Rolling Stone magazine listed in their Top 500 Artists/Songs of all time. (Excepting, of course, the modern stuff from the 2010 update.)
I also didn't see any chemistry whatsoever between Harper and Jake. So when they had a fight about him keeping June's letter from her near the end of the book, I didn't give a fig and read right past it. He doesn't have much of a personality besides the music he listens to, anyway. He's just some dream hipster guy. Speaking of personalities, Harper was the only person with some semblance of a backstory, motivations, etcetera, even if she's dull as dishwater. Everyone else just blandly orbited around her.
It's not that the novel is badly written. Hannah Harrington's writing style is relaxed and easy to read, but the characters were boring, and there were a few too many aimless detours for me. I really didn't want to lose sight of my idea of this novel being a heartfelt tale of love, loss, and letting go, all that stuff that would sound nice in a movie trailer. Sadly, it turned out for the worst, and wound up boring and annoying me. 2/5.