Harper enlists the help of her best friend Laney on this road trip and they also have an uninvited guest - Jake. Jake is a stranger to Harper but someone who claims to have known June well and even though she's hesitant at first, she allows him to come along in the hopes that maybe he can help her figure out why June made the choice she did. What ends up happening is nothing like Harper expects but might just be exactly what she needs.
The characters in this story are complex yet relateable. I felt like I could put a name of someone I know in real life to each one. Harper seems to be the typical angst ridden teen with goth like tendencies but as the layers of her heart get peeled back you begin to see that she's created this self protective wall because she's had too. At one point she explains that her mother loved June too much and her not enough. How sad is that?! June has definitely been the "golden" daughter in this family and they've made the mistake of expecting Harper to be "just like your sister" instead of who she was created to be. As a result, she's lived up to their expectations of her which sadly, haven't been very high. What they've failed to see is how selfless, honest and caring she is. She hides behind her sarcasm and snarky foul mouth but she's the first one to give up what she wants in order to appease someone else's feelings. She's stronger than she gives herself credit for and while she makes some poor choices along her road trip through grief, one can't help but wonder if she'd even make them at all if her family loved and supported her the way they should.
Laney is Harper's BFF! She's smart, beautiful and has parents who are well off but who pay her very little attention, only caring that she keeps her grades up. This effective parenting style works so well that is forces Laney to go "looking for love in all the wrong places". She tends to make friends easily and this is something that Harper admires about her, being able to assimilate into any group or social situation without feeling awkward. She loves Harper like a sister and is fiercely protective of her which is always a good quality to have in a friend. Laney's carefree lifestyle catches up to her eventually and we also see that she too is different than what she projects to the outside world.
Then there's Jake... Jake shows up at the wake (hey, that rhymes!) and proceeds to simultaneously tweak Harper's interest with what he claims to know about June (even though he's not like anyone June would ever have hung out with) and tick her off at the same time with his attitude and his hotness. He and Harper have this hilarious and no holes barred banter that had me in tears of laughter. (The "Dateline" conversation was one of my favorites!) He's tall and lean with amazing green eyes (the first thing Harper notices) and hair that looks like he's cut it himself. He's like a Jedi master when it comes to music and prefers songs that speak to him. He's a complicated guy who drives Harper crazy one minute while setting her heart a flutter the next but he too has a story that is almost as heartbreaking as Harper's...almost.
Aunt Helen is Harper's aunt and honestly, she gives Christian's a bad name. Many times I cringed while reading this, wanting to smack her and hug Harper but I had to remember that people like her are also hurting in some way and would benefit more from my hug and prayers than my smack. (So maybe just an air smack to remind Aunt Helen that Jesus would NOT approve of her treatment of Harper? Yeah, probably not...)
There is heartbreak, pain, loss and healing in this book and several lessons to be learned - like not being too quick to judge a person by their outward appearance. Just because a person may seem like they have it all together or they're happy doesn't mean that they are. Every single person has insecurities and sometimes you have to dig deeper, past the clothes, the makeup, the walls people put up in order to see the heart of someone. Another lesson? Don't be afraid of life. To love. To hurt. To feel. To have faith. It's what makes us who we are and how we're able to connect with one another. Don't. Be. Afraid.
The soundtrack listings at the end were a personal favorite of mine and I was happy to see such a great mix. (no "Mix CD" pun intended) I also agree with Jake when he was explaining to Harper how good music speaks to him when he doesn't have the words himself...I feel the exact same way.