The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Received from NetGalley for review.

And I say a final prayer, this one in gratitude that there are people who will protect kids with a fire that makes them sprint after cars, fight systems, curse with rage.
It’s enough to make you believe.
Maybe not in symbols; maybe not in gods. But certainly in people.

This is lovely and heart-breaking and utterly wonderful, all at once. The Names They Gave Us surprised me, something that has happened a few times recently with contemporary young adult novels – it is an incredibly well written story about a girl coming to grips with her mother’s cancer returning, with her faith and what it truly means, and with her perception of people. It deals with grief, all kinds of abuse and suffering, the meaning of faith, and love, all with sensitivity amidst the harsh reality of those situations, and places importance of the power of love, of caring, of acceptance, and it moved me greatly – much more than I expected. The power of the story crept up on me slowly, and it was only once I was half way through that I realised just how invested I was in the lives of the characters.

The story follows Lucy, whose life turns upside down when her mother’s cancer returns, her boyfriend ‘pauses’ their relationship, and her mother suggests she go to Daybreak, a camp for troubled kids, rather than their bible camp, for the summer. Her ordered world becomes chaos and she struggles massively with anxiety over her mother, confusion over her relationship, and fear over being at Daybreak, all the while questioning the faith that has inherently been a part of her life. I found it so fascinating seeing how Lucy dealt with everything as the novel progressed; nothing comes easy and she struggled massively to cope, but she keeps trying, and soon begins to realise that life, relationships, and religion, aren’t as black and white as she once thought. Her character development is tremendous and I became really invested in how she dealt with her faith – I’m not religious at all but I loved the way she explored her own faith and the things that she discovered along the way.

“Whose empire did you just overthrow?”
My own.

The entire story and the characters that make it are brilliant. Lord has covered so many important and deep subjects in such an accessible way that you don’t need to have experienced trauma, grief, breakups, or floundering faith, you don’t need to have visited a summer camp or been consumed with worry for your mother’s mortality – it’s about people, it’s about friendships and love, and being comfortable with who you are and the things that have defined you, and that is something incredible. I imagine, though, that everyone could find something to relate to within this book, I know that Lucy’s feelings and worries about her mother did for me. I’m not sure there’s anything negative I could write about The Names They Gave Us, it has its own unique magic and I can’t recommend it enough – it has everything you would want from a novel and more, and it kept me feeling every emotion until the very end. And those last three pages? They are something else entirely.

I believe in nature, in science, in jazz, in dancing.
And I believe in people. In their resilience, in their goodness.
This is my credo; this is my hymn. Maybe it’s not good enough for heaven, and maybe I’m even wrong. But if I can walk through the fire and, with blistered skin, still have faith in better days? I have to believe that’s good enough.

Read: May 30th-June 8th 2017

5/5 stars


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