The Names They Gave Us reviewed by Tara

On Prom night, Lucy feels that life is perfect. She has everything she hoped for. Her mother has survived cancer, both her parents are well, Lukas is a reliable boyfriend, and she has been selected as captain of the swim team for her senior year. She is looking forward to continuing the family tradition of spending the summer with her parents working on their church camp.

When she learns that her mother is ill again, her world cracks into little pieces. To make things worse, her mother wants to send Lucy away to be a junior counsellor at the ‘hippy camp’ around the lake. Feeling abandoned by her parents, her boyfriend and God, Lucy doesn’t know what to believe in.

Lucy complies with her mother’s wishes, expecting the worst. Instead she meets a group of people that have experienced significant difficulties in life and are learning how to move forward. She discovers that the members of the ‘hippy camp’ hold similar presumptions about her family’s camp, known as the ‘crazy church camp’, and this challenges her prejudices. As she looks beyond the external stereotypes that could cause division, she finds a type of friendship that she never knew existed – real, honest, raw and dependable. She finds the support to face her questions about her faith, as well as the questions about her family history that her experiences at camp unfold.

I immediately had preconceived ideas about the storyline when I read the first chapter. In hindsight, I suspect it is specifically written to cause the reader to picture a stereotype which is challenged as the reader learns more information. The Names They Gave Us was refreshingly different to my initial expectations. It accentuates the human tendency to label others and focus on differences, instead of connecting through similarities. It illustrates the way that every individual’s belief system is challenged by life and how together we are stronger and able to face the challenges that we experience.

The story is about respect despite diversity of religious belief, race, gender and sexual orientation. The differences are not emphasised and are used to define the characters – instead they exist as part of who each character is. Despite differing backgrounds, choices and beliefs, the characters learnt to respect and support each other, and developed strong ties. The characters are strong, believable and each has their own distinct story. As the story progresses, it is easy to get caught up in it, wondering what will happen next.

This is a beautiful story about finding faith in unexpected places and about looking beyond external stereotypes to see the person within. It describes the resilience of the human spirit and the way suffering knocks us over, changes us and makes us stronger. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it.

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