Book Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
Also by this author: When We Collided, The Map from Here to There
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 16th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Emery Lord’s The Names They Gave Us is a book that I was actually a little apprehensive about reading even though I fell in love with her writing when I read When We Collided. My hesitation this time around was because I had read that this book focuses a lot on religion and faith. Since I don’t consider myself to be a particularly religious person, I was a little worried the subject matter might put me off. Thankfully, my worries were unfounded. Even though faith does play a prominent role in the story, Emery Lord handles it in a way that doesn’t come across as heavy-handed at all. The Names They Gave Us is essentially a coming of age story and part of the main character’s coming of age journey is to actually question her own faith.
The Names They Gave Us follows Lucy Hansson, a high school student who is also the daughter of a preacher. Because religion has just always been a part of Lucy’s life, she has always felt secure in her faith and has never questioned it. That is, until her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. That diagnosis sets off a chain reaction of events that strips all of the constants out of Lucy’s life. Her longtime boyfriend Lucas, the boy she fully expects to marry someday, suddenly decides that the two of them should take a break and make sure they really love each other. Not only that, but Lucy’s mom also decides that instead of Lucy being a counselor at their church camp like she has for every summer for as long as she can remember, she should take a job as a counselor at Daybreak, a local camp for troubled kids.
Lucy is crushed that Lucas would choose now of all times to break up with her and is also completely baffled as to why her mom would not want her to be with them at the church camp. She is also starting to question her own faith: After all of their prayers and the prayers of everyone in their congregation, how could her mom’s cancer have possibly come back? Feeling like her whole world has been turned upside down, but ultimately knowing that she doesn’t want to do anything to upset her mother, Lucy reluctantly agrees to work at Daybreak for the summer.
When she first arrives at Daybreak, Lucy feels overwhelmed and wants nothing more than to be back at the church camp with her parents, but then she eventually starts to make friends – real friends that she actually has things in common with, friends who are also going through or have been through some bad times in their lives. They provide a support system for Lucy that she has never had before, even with friends from school she thought she was close to – and suddenly things aren’t quite as bad as they first seemed.
Could this be why Lucy’s mom insisted that she go to Daybreak? Is this Lucy’s mom’s way of making sure her little girl will be okay no matter what happens. Or is there more to it than that?
I really liked Lucy and her family right away. They’re just good people who fully embrace their faith but who also don’t try to force their beliefs on to others. I was immediately devastated for them when it was revealed that Lucy’s mom’s cancer had come back. The family was just getting back on its feet after her first battle with it, and now it sends them all reeling again.
Lucy was so easy to root for her not just because she was likable, but also because her emotions and fears, and those questions that just kept running through her mind felt so real. Emery Lord does a very nice job of getting inside the mind of someone who is having a crisis of faith and possibly facing the loss of a loved one. It was often heart-wrenching to read, but the portrayal felt very authentic.
I also loved that Lucy keeps an open mind about going to Daybreak and that her character undergoes tremendous growth during her stay there. The counselors and the children who come there are a diverse group and, as such, Lucy meets a lot of people there who are very different from her and from anyone else she has ever known. She doesn’t shy away from them or judge them at all though. She meets a lesbian and a transgender counselor, for example, and she’s very open to asking any questions she has about their experiences. She just genuinely wants to know everything about them and does so without trying to push any of her own beliefs on to them.
The beautiful friendships Lucy makes with her fellow counselors at Daybreak are one of my absolute favorite parts of The Names They Gave Us. Each counselor has their own issues to deal with, whether it’s severe anxiety, abuse, or something else, but they come to camp and set aside those issues and try to help other kids who may be going through similar hard times. Because the kids they counsel are often having such a rough go of things, they are not allowed to show any signs of their own issues while around them. The counselors therefore lean on each other for support behind closed doors and, over their many years of working together, have become a very tight-knit group of friends. And even though Lucy is the new girl and they know nothing about her, they still welcome her in with open arms. Once she gets to know them and sees how much they truly are there for each other, Lucy slowly starts to realize that she doesn’t have to carry her burdens alone, that her friends will be there to support her.
This theme of the importance of friendship was what resonated with me most, as did the idea that it’s perfectly okay to question your own faith and beliefs from time to time. It’s all just a normal part of that journey to find yourself and figure out your place in the world.
The only real issue I had with The Names They Gave Us is with the way Emery Lord left one important aspect of the story unresolved. I don’t want to give away the ending so I’m going to be a little vague here. I know this is Lucy’s story and that I should be satisfied knowing that she’ll be okay no matter what happens, but I still wanted to know how everything was going to turn out for her family. I guess maybe I got a little too invested in the Hansson family but the characters were just so beautifully drawn that I couldn’t help but fall in love with them all.
With its focus on heavy topics such as cancer and religion, The Names They gave Us is not what I would consider to be a light contemporary read. It is a beautiful read though and one I would highly recommend if you’re into books that focus on love, friendship, family, and faith.
When it all falls apart, who can you believe in?
Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job.
Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be.
It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.
I loved this one. Just something about Lucy and her friendships and experiences I loved. I agree the end was a little open and rushed but didn’t ruin it for me. Great review!
Yes, I adored her circle of friends. They were just the best!
Thank you for your insightful review, Suzanne! I am glad you mentioned that the faith talk in the novel isn’t heavy handed. That might have bothered me as well, if it had been. I do really like the sound of this book and would like to read it.
Yes, I thought the author handled the faith aspect in such a way that wouldn’t alienate potential readers who aren’t necessarily religious. I actually found Lucy’s thoughts and questions about her faith very easy to relate to, which was nice.
The ending made me bananas, but after reading three Lord books, I am suspecting it’s her MO to leave loose ends, otherwise, it was a really beautiful story.
Yeah, I think you’re right about the loose ends. Definitely still an incredible read even with the loose ends though.
I just read this as well and I loved it!! I do agree with you about the ending though… You’re right, it is Lucy’s story, but I would have loved it if that thing could have been resolved. Great review!
Thanks! Glad I’m not the only one who felt that way about the ending.
I’ve never read anything by Emery Lord, but I DO want to. I’m glad this wasn’t too heavy-handed with the religion, as I’m not really a religious person either. It can be a be a hit or miss when it comes to books dealing with the topic. Sounds like a really great read, with some awesome characters.
I’m the same way when it comes to religion, and I thought she did a great job in presenting it in such a way as not to alienate any of her readers.
The Names They Gave Us sounds like an emotional one especially tackling the cancer topic. I wonder about that unresolved issue. Glad you enjyed this one.
Yes, it was definitely an emotional read.
The presence of faith in a book always gives me pause, but I appreciate what Lord (apt name!) does with the issues at Daybreak. It sounds like so much going on, from your review, it sounds like she’s done well with Daybeak. I like too that she’s exploring losing your faith too — that’s impressive.
Yes, I thought she handled all of the sensitive topics quite delicately. I don’t think I’ve seen any reviews yet where someone felt put off by the religious aspects.