The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord is amazing. I simply could not put this book down. I love, love, love this book. Lucy’s mom is dealing with cancer the second time. Her mom asks her to work at Daybreak another camp, not the usual church. Lucy helps the other kids with their issues and makes friends with the other camp leaders. She also finds love again. She also learns more about her mom and the life before. Lucy faces her inner battle with faith, a camp for troubled youth whose counselors are just as burdened with their own baggage as their young campers are, diversity of race and sexual identities, and an outpouring of love between family, friends, and strangers.
Lord introduces us to a compelling cast of characters as Lucy spends the summer before her senior year not at her family’s church camp like always but as a counselor at the neighboring camp, a camp for kids dealing with tough stuff in their lives. From anxiety disorders to drug addicted parents to teen pregnancy, the campers and many of the counselors have issues they are dealing with and Lucy’s not sure how she will know how to help these kids. This is a huge change from the careful, religious life she’s always known, but it turns out that a summer filled with messiness and swimming and music and new friends can be more life-changing than she ever thought.
Although the main storyline, Lucy dealing with her mom’s diagnosis and questioning her faith there are so many storylines running through this book. Even though she’s self-identified faith as the central tenet to her being, Lucy is also a talented musician, a passionate swimmer, and a girl who longs to fit in and has had few real friends outside her family. When she’s separated from her family for the summer for the first time ever, Lucy has space to work out other areas of her being. It crushes her to be away from her mom during this terrible time in their lives, but it’s ultimately so good for both of them.
It was a beautiful representation of a Christian protagonist struggling with hard questions. I was really concerned about how Lucy would be portrayed in this book, but I thought Lord was pretty much on point with her characterization. Her questions about faith were so honest and real.
I loved the characters and their stories and the growth. But I hated the ending. It left me wanting more. I didn’t like that a lot of stuff happened and then we don’t get to see how it pans out. I just need more from these characters. My heart was broken.
I received this ARC from Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.