When it all falls apart, who can you believe in?
Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job.
Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be.
It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.
Description taken from Goodreads.
I hadn’t heard anything about The Names They Gave Us until I saw it at the library and arbitrarily decided to pick it up. The cover wasn’t especially enticing, and the synopsis sounded like a pretty run-of-the-mill summer coming-of-age, but I had to read it because of Emery Lord. Emery debuted around the rise of my involvement with the YA community and completely stunned with her novel Open Road Summer. It was sensitive, smart, and realistic, with characters who were multi-faceted and flawed. It was one of my favorite books of the year. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to check out her writing since then, until now.
In the past few months, I’ve slowly but steadily returned to classical literature (I’m reading Jane Eyre right now :D) and dipping my toes into the adult genre. As I’ve mentioned before, within a year or two or three, YA will no longer be my primary genre. With that in mind, I’m really glad that I got the chance to approach this book as a YA reader, and grateful to Emery for writing it. I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves this genre, particularly religious teens.
Christianity is one topic that I’ve never seen approached positively in YA. Maybe it’s too familiar to the target audience, or maybe most teens aren’t serious about their faith until they become slightly older. Whatever the case, its portrayal doesn’t usually happen. In The Names They Gave Us, Emery dives straight into Lucy’s mindset, her religious life, and her struggle to maintain her belief in the midst of her mom’s cancer reappearing. There were so many things about this story that 100% resonated with me. Even though I’ve never gone through the circumstances that Lucy went through in this story, I shared her sentiments. At its core, this story is about a girl exploring her values, beliefs, and the adult that she’s going to be in the face of disappointment, struggle, and the realization that very little about life is as simple as it is in childhood.
Lucy may just be one of my favorite YA heroines ever. She’s someone that I would love to know in real life. She’s resilient, and kind despite being overwhelmed and uncertain at many points in the story. She’s not able to approach every blow to her faith with love and patience, but she tries.
Huge props to Emery for creating Lucy, and for giving a largely accurate view (at least in my experience) of what being a Christian, who is also just a person, and also just a teenager, is like. The Names They Gave Us had moments of elegance and insight that were brilliant. The writing was great every step of the way, and I so enjoyed getting to know each of the characters. Lucy’s relationships with her parents was positive throughout the story, which is always a plus. Moreover, Lucy recognized that her parents love her. Even when they lied to her, she heard them out and tried to understand. Totally not the norm in YA, mature for her as a character, and an overall healthy relationship.
My respect for the friendships Emery writes grew to a whole new level with this book. Lucy starts out being awkward and unsure how to approach the counselors she desperately wants to impress at the camp. As she gets to know them, she begins to see the goodness in each of them, and her interactions with her newfound friends changes the way she views her circumstances. This recognition of the goodness in other people is one of my favorite parts of this story (there are a lot to choose from). There are people in each of our lives that inspire us to believe in something, and Lucy recognizes the ones that appear throughout this novel. Flaws and mistakes don’t negate that goodness, and as Lucy works to become better and understand how God is working in her life, it reminds the reader of the importance of grace.
All of this to say, this book feels less like a book and more like a personal gift, but it’s also fun.
Take the romance, for instance, which is another friend-to-love storyline, same as Open Road Summer. The romance in this one does move a bit slower. The protag isn’t quite as forward, and there’s the issue of being on break with her current boyfriend. Admittedly, wasn’t as huge of a fan of Henry as I was of Matt Finch, but c’mon. It’s Matt Finch. Not many people compete with that. Still, Henry was really sweet while remaining realistic. He had his own life and his own problems that were talked about from time to time. I love love loved the parts where Lucy really considered her romances. I didn’t agree with all of it, but she did it without being angsty. Rather, she thought rationally about if she should be with someone or not, and what the implications of each would be. She thought about why she loved someone, which is another rare find in YA.
The break from the old boyfriend was handled well too, though I would’ve liked to see a bit more of him. What I really respected about Lukas and Lucy was how amicable they remained. Even if they weren’t made for each other, they were good to one another, still had love for each other, and tried to be considerate and supportive. Rare find in YA numero tres.
Then there’s also the camp. The camp was more of a setting-the-scene than the focus of the story. The interactions we see between the counselors and the campers reveal more about both. These experiences are sweet, at times hilarious, and often still rooted in the hurdles that they faced to have gotten to the camp.
Finally, there’s the ending. It’s a bit of an open-ended way of tying things up. I can see people disliking it, but it worked for me. In the end, Lucy is more informed about who she is and who she wants to be, and she has the strength to endure whatever result comes out. By leaving the ending open-ended, Emery made a point of showing what the whole book was about. In that sense, it was more powerful than if all the questions had been answered.
Overall, awesome book. 2018 is looking up for books this year, and already I’ve found one of my favorites. The book does have flaws, particularly the way it sags a bit in the middle and the dialogue that can be skipped between the characters, but the development itself was perfect. Will be recommending. 4.5 stars.