First, thank you so much to Allen & Unwin Australia for sending me a finished copy of this book to review.
The Names They Gave Us is a story about love, loss, faith and friendship. In essence. We follow 17 year old Lucy Hansson, who has the perfect summer planned out with her boyfriend Lukas. She’s ready to go back to work at her childhood Bible camp by the lake, and explore her faith some more, but when her mother’s cancer reappears and Lukas puts a ‘pause’ on their relationship, Lucy isn’t so sure that the upcoming summer months are going to plan. Then, Lucy’s mum tells her that instead of working at the Bible camp like normal, she’s instead signed Lucy up as a camp counsellor at the camp across the lake, Camp Daybreak, a camp for wayward, troubled and grieving kids and teens.
The story follows Lucy as she learns to navigate a new world she’s practically been thrown in to, as she tries to reconnect with her faith and find new friends in a place she never thought she would. It’s a story of compassion and kindness, empathy and understanding and learning to open up and let others in when you need them the most.
This book has touched me in so many ways. In May 2017 I lost my grandfather to a horrible battle with cancer. It was his third time fighting the disease, so Lucy’s thoughts about her mum and her mum’s battle with cancer sounded very similar to my own recent ones. I quickly grew to empathise with Lucy. I completely understood where she was mentally and the reason(s) for why she did (or didn’t) do certain things. If you’ve ever experienced cancer (in any sort of way) you’d know that you never really, truly know if anything will be okay ever again, and I just wanted to reach into this book and give Lucy (and her mum) a hug for everything that she was going through.
The Names They Gave Us was my one private way of grieving. In the weeks since my grandfather passed away I’ve almost become a different person, in the way that losing someone special and dear to you changes you at the core, most fundamental level. Lucy’s character showed me that it’s okay not to be okay, and that everyone has their own ways of dealing with grief and loss and hardship. It’s okay to reach out to family, friends and faith. It’s okay if you’re angry at God or whoever else you believe in. It’s okay if you’re mad at yourself for a while. There wasn’t a moment in this book where I felt that Lucy was unjustified in her actions. In fact, she handled things a lot better than I think I have and I’m 4 years older than her. Lucy learned to talk to her parents and demand that they keep her up-to-date about her mum’s illness, she stood up to Lukas and put herself first before anyone else, and she was a great counsellor to a group of kids that looked up to her.
I also respect the author for the amount of religious elements that this book had in it. Lucy’s a very religious girl, her father’s a pastor and she’s spent her entire life raised on religious faith. But when she gets to Camp Daybreak, Lucy learns that not everybody lives with faith the way that she does. When her mum’s cancer comes back, Lucy learns that faith isn’t as stable as she thought it once was, and this whole book shows the amount of development that she goes through trying to navigate on shaky ground. The Names They Gave Us showed me that you can lose your faith, but find it again in the things and the people that you love, just like Lucy does in her parents and her new found friends. Lucy didn’t force herself to find God again, but learned that there’s more than one way to be faithful, to pray and to be thankful. This book taught me to find faith, love, beauty, kindness (and so much more) in places I’d never thought to look before.
This is also a book about friendship. What is friendship? How do you tell a true friend from a fake one? What does it mean to be a friend to someone, and to seek friendship in other people? There are moments in this book where Lucy truly starts to see herself as a part of a new found family with the campers and counsellors at Camp Daybreak. I love that she allowed herself to really open up to so many new people, to be unafraid to share her passions and her faith, and to express how she felt (especially about a certain other counsellor).
Of all the other characters we meet, Anna was a definite stand-out. Anna had one of the most unique voices, and I loved her character development, even though I wish we got to see a lot more of her. I actually wouldn’t mind reading an entire spin-off novel all about Anna.
I also really loved Jones’ character. I was hesitant at first, believing he would be no more than a rebound love interest for Lucy, but their relationship developed so much deeper than I was expecting it to. He’s supportive and comforting, caring and absolutely kind to her in every way, but he also didn’t shy away from speaking up about his feelings and experiences. Even though I know next to nothing about music or melodies, I found myself entranced every time Jones picked up his trumpet or Lucy sat at the piano. Jones’ family were so welcoming to Lucy, and their warmth just radiated off the page. All in all, Jones was just a good guy at heart, and I’m glad he and Lucy shared something special with each other in the end.
This book had elements that scared me, but that ultimately surprised me in the end. I loved every character, I enjoyed reading about a protagonist who had interests rather different to mine, and overall I’m just so happy to have found a book that has allowed me to work through the grief I’m still experiencing. It taught me a lot of lessons about life, faith, friendship and grief, and ultimately it shared something special about family, and love that never ends.
Overall, I highly recommend The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord. If you love a contemporary novel, and you’re looking for one that will pull at the heartstrings, then this is it.
I gave The Names They Gave Us 4.5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.
The Names They Gave Us is out now, available in-store and online in Australia! ($17.99)
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