The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

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The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Lucy struggles with her faith in the wake of her mother's cancer diagnosis. Lovely writing style and great character development but a little on the worthy side.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: June 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1408877813

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Lucy is doing pretty well. She's captain of the school swimming team. She has the perfect boyfriend in Lukas. She gets on with her parents - even if she hasn't told them about her online make-up tutorial channel. Summer's coming up, she'll be working as a counsellor at her pastor father's Bible camp as usual, spending quality time with Lukas and Mom and Dad as usual, and everything's going to be wonderful...

... but all this changes in an instant when her mother's breast cancer comes back. Suddenly, Lucy finds the faith that has always sustained her is in crisis and her relationship with Lukas is under pressure. And then there's the awful, awful terror that consumes her whenever she thinks about her mother's illness. And, to cap it all, Lucy's mother decides she should volunteer at a different camp this summer - a camp for troubled kids. This isn't what Lucy wants at all but she tries to accept the new normal as best she can. And, slowly, as the summer unfolds, she makes new friends, gains new insights and begins to uncover new understandings about herself, her family and the world.

The Names They Gave Us will seem slightly foreign to UK teenagers. (White) Britain is a much more secular country - culturally Christian, at best - and teenagers here don't often think about their relationship with God, or go to religious summer camps, or partake in religious abstinence. Swearing is less of a taboo. I don't think this will make it any less engaging or interesting but it should be said that the book may have a different impact on this side of the Pond. I will also say that I think some details felt a little forced. Lord gets in a mention of almost every issue current teens think about - being trans, suicide, interracial relationships, abstinence, even cultural appropriation. I can see the worthy motives for all of it and appreciate them but let's not make it a checklist of virtue, you know?

But of course, there is much that is universal. Lucy has to contend with the break-up of her first relationship, finding friendship in new places, growing from a self-centred and childish notion of the world into a new adult who can appreciate the perspectives of others. And, most importantly, to cope with the potentially imminent mortality of a beloved parent. These are all terrifying things, particularly to a relatively sheltered and naturally reserved, introspective girl like Lucy. To her credit, she starts the book as quite prissy and self-absorbed but rises to the challenge - prompted by her very wise mother - and is the better for it, not only for herself but also as a daughter, a friend, and a girlfriend. And I liked the ending, which avoided tying everything off in neat bows.

Emery Lord's biggest strengths are in character development and a quietly effective writing style. Both are on display here and The Names They Gave Us is an engaging and absorbing read that balances coming-of-age, family crisis and teen romance to great effect. I would have liked just a little less worthiness, is all.

Julia Green also writes wonderful character arcs for girls in romantic coming-of-age stories. Try This Northern Sky or Drawing with Light.

Buy The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord at

Buy The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord at


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