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Review: The Names They Gave Us - Emery Lord

Genre: YA Contemporary

Published: Bloomsbury, 2017

My Rating: 3/5 stars

“It's enough to make you believe. Maybe not in symbols; maybe not in gods. But certainly in people.”

I’m a little on the fence, but this was… better than I expected… YA-contemporary is outside my usual genre, and Christian fiction really isn’t my thing, but I surprisingly enjoyed a lot more about The Names they Gave Us than I anticipated.

This is a heartwarming story about a teenage girl sent off to be a camp-counselor at a secular youth-camp, whilst her mother is going through chemotherapy for her stage-3 breast cancer. Lucy, raised a Christian, has been struggling with her faith ever since her mothers diagnosis: how can God do something so cruel to her and her family? She’s incredibly hesitant to go to a secular camp because of this, on top of wanting to be close to her mum in this difficult time. Pressed by her mother who insist she goes, Lucy agrees and sets off for a summer of change where she meets people that shape the way she views life in different ways.

What I liked:

First off; the summer-camp-vibes in this book were on point. I truly felt the found-family vibes and bitter-sweet-summer-days-feeling so characteristic to those moments.

Second, I hate to say “for a Christian-book”, but I’m doing it anyway. “For a Christian-book: this was incredibly inclusive and positive about the topic of different religious beliefs and walks of life. Often, there’s a certain preachiness to these stories that felt absent from Emery Lords story. Lucy’s faith is an important element of the story, but there is so much more to it. Starting off, she has a very narrow world-view, almost looking down on the “hippie-kids” at the secular camp, but as she gets to know the kids and counselors and their often heavy backstories, she learns to see them for more than their faith or past.

What I didn’t like:

This book is far from subtle about its messaging, and at times that becomes a little grating. Every camp-attendee is written like a bit of a precious-snow-flake. They all come from underprivileged backgrounds and have tough life-stories, but handle it with such beauty and grace, as to inspire the main character. It feels a bit too much like “inspiration-porn”, in which a very privileged author/audience get to fawn over the strength of these “poor sad victims”. There’s also an element of minority-bingo at play, with an obvious token-character from different minorities being present at camp. Think: a trans-characters, black characters, an Asian girl, a teen-mum, etc. They all “represent” their minority, but don’t have too much development as characters beyond that. To me, that’s not inclusive writing; that’s lazy writing. The intentions were in the right place, but the execution wasn’t there.

Overall, a 3 star read that had the potential to be much better, but could’ve been far worse. I’m glad I picked it up, but don’t think I have any interest in continuing to read this authors work in particular.

You can find this book here on Goodreads.


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