United By Pop received a free copy of The Names They Gave Us in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are our own.
Title: The Names They Gave Us
Author: Emery Lord
Overall rating: 4.5/5
Great for: Fans of Becky Albertalli, Morgan Matson, and Cecilia Vinesse
Themes: Contemporary, young adult, coming-of-age, romance and religion
Review: Lucy Hansson might not have her whole life mapped out, but her summer is meticulously planned: church camp with her parents and a mid-summer meet-up with her boyfriend. But her parents have other plans for her and, with the aggressive return of her mother’s cancer, who is Lucy to refuse them?
Enrolled as a counselor in the grief camp across the lake from her normal summer retreat, Lucy now finds herself surrounded by hordes of middle-school kids, now looking to her for the guidance she is so sorely lacking in her own life. Without even the reassurance of her boyfriend, who seems to have abandoned her at the first sight of any turbulence to his perfectly ordered life, and with the concerns over her mother’s health increasing as the summer wanes, how can anyone expect Lucy to be responsible for anyone other than herself?
I had honestly not expected to find such an impactful and heartfelt message confined within the pages of ‘The Names They Gave Us’. I had anticipated a fun, fast-paced summer read and not the poignant and inspiring story that was actually delivered. I had also wrongly assumed that the overtly religious themes of the book would provide nothing for an atheist reader and make it, perhaps, difficult to bond with the protagonist.
I have always found the faith of others to be a beautiful thing, but also something that has always been distant from my own life, asides from one summer when I was nine-years-old where I convinced myself I was going to become a nun after seeing Julie Andrews in ‘The Sound of Music‘. Through Lucy’s exploration of Christianity, the reader is invited to experience faith from an inside perspective. And through Lucy’s loss of it we are also invited to analyse our own opinions and stance on religion. I have previously only ever viewed these aspects from a distance and admired the beauty of belief from a cursory level. Here, I was invited inside the fold, as it were, and truly got to experience what faith, and the loss of it, felt like.
This was also a read inclusive of all other religions, as Lucy herself finds out when discovering a plethora of religious symbols attached to the wall and a dedicated time and space reserved for religious practises within the camp. My eyes were opened alongside Lucy’s, and the diversity didn’t stop there. This was truly a book in which every reader could find themselves in. The protagonist might represent one thing but a voice was given to so many other perspectives. It was heartening to see such a broad spectrum of individuals represented and this has such an important message to spread about the acceptance of difference.
This wasn’t a wholly testing read, however. In amongst the life lessons and learning curves, the reader is invited to feel the joys of summer. S’mores at midnight, early morning lake swims, and camp fire sharing sessions all combine to make this read the epitome of the season of sun! And along this backdrop of this (almost) wholesome fun the reader was left with a lasting message to take away after the season’s close. We are all different, but we are all also the same. We’re all just individuals muddling our way through the chaos and hurdles of life and everyone is fighting demons of their own. So be kind. Always. And be accepting even more.