Publication Date: May 16th, 2017
Source: ARC from Publisher
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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 like Emery. I really do. Her first two books are two of my all-time favourite contemps. I had some issues with her last book, but that was a me thing. Of course, I was dying to get my hands on The Names They Gave Us. Even though I had some reservations. I wasn't sure how well I'd connect, even like The Names They Gave Us. It is about the daughter of a pastor struggling with her faith. I am not a religious person and can find that when faith and religion are one of the main plot points I find myself unable to connect to the story. Or even find that it's too in my face. Clearly, I shouldn't doubt Emery and her story telling abilities. I may not have been able to relate to Lucy on those aspects of her life but that did not take away from the enjoyment of this book. The Names They Gave Us may not be my favourite of Emery's books but I do believe it's her strongest(to date).
I had some misgivings about Lucy pretty much right away. You get this immediate impression of her; daughter of the pastor, clean cut, captain of the swim team, perfect upstanding boyfriend, hiding a few of her passions from her parents; she has a certain image to uphold. Or at least she thinks she does. My views on Lucy changed pretty quickly. She obviously had a lot of personal growth to go through. And it's not that she was a bad person, it's more that her true self had yet to have the time to shine through. Lucy was hidden behind her faith, the comfortable feeling of her trusting loyal boyfriend and captaining the swim team. The news of the return of her mother's cancer is ultimately the catalyst summer Lucy and all she'll learn. I loved Lucy for being curious and fiercely loyal. Even when shocking secrets are revealed and she has every right to be mad, Lucy remains unselfish and a decent person.
Obviously, her mom's cancer is tragic, but I want to point out the bright light that came from it for Lucy(besides her boyfriend pausing them because yea dude is nice but Lucy needs more than nice), her spending the summer as a counsellor at the camp next door. This isn't her families bible camp. It's a camp for troubled kids. Lucy goes in with misgivings. It is a very different setting than her normal summer. But that's the point. Lucy needs to get out of her comfort zone. To realize how strong of a person she is. To form new friendships. To strengthen her bond with her parents. And the big one for Lucy, learning to trust her faith and to know that it will change and grow as she does. I feel like a lot of readers will find themselves relating to Lucy in one way. Even if you live different lifestyles, personal growth and change is always a scary thing when you're a teenager. Even more so in the throes of tragedy.
Quick note on the cancer plotline; this is far from a "cancer book". Yes, Lucy mom's cancer is an element of the book but it is not the book. Far from it.
The Names They Gave Us is a character driven novel, as you would assume a contemp would be. Lucy is our leading lady, but there is a whole slew of characters that I came to love as they dealt with their own baggage, well also helping Lucy along on her summer of growth. The power of friendship really shines through for Lucy when she starts to form relationships with some of her fellow counsellors. I don't think she realized how lonely she was until that point. The four main friendships she forms are some of the best moments in the book. As a group they're dynamic is amazing and fun. They have that familial bond that is missing in a lot of YA books out there. Lucy starts to fit seamlessly into the group. Forming those new relationships, with the group and some of the other kids at the camp is truly what helps Lucy in her journey.
There is a romance; which is sweet and swoony and exactly what I wanted it to be. Never at any point does it take over the story. The romance is quite a few rungs down that plot ladder. Friends, family, faith and Lucy herself all squish up front and centre. Which is exactly how it should be for this story. I mean, I wouldn't mind more of Lucy and Jones in the future. Their relationship is super adorable. The whole always being yourself and honest with each other thing makes their lasting power as a couple believable. Even with them being so young.
The Names They Gave Us is a personal growth story. Lucy starts out pretty subdued and nieve. She believes there is so much holding her back from learning to be herself. Lucy believes things about her parents just based on their faith and that is a dangerous thing. This is where Lucy's curiosity and her ability to learn and change shape her as a person. What you believe in people, how you think they'll react or think is second nature to us. Lucy realzing that her parent's faith or somebodies home life isn't a good enough reason to judge. Just like Lucy loving make-up or not knowing what her future holds should stop her exploring her life and options in the present. The Names They Gave Us is just a great YA contemp for anyone looking for a solid one sitting read; it's got the fun times, the sad times, family, friendship and a pinch of romance. A total win for me.
P.S. I get what Emery was doing with that ending, but open endings are my enemy. Just be forewarned. I'd like to think that leaves room for a sequel. I know that is very very wishful dreaming on my part.