Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
This book completely took my by surprise, and it is easily one of the best contemporaries I’ve read all year. Actually, let’s be honest: one of the best contemporaries I’ve read ever. I haven’t been touched this much by friendship, family and faith since the Clearwater Crossing series, which is an old one from the 90s but one of my all time favourites due to it’s absolutely beautiful complex characters and range of emotion. Emery Lord managed to pack the punch of a 20 book series into 380 glorious pages. The Names They Gave Us has a beating heart at its core and I was fully blown away.
Lucy’s mother has been in remission for a while, but then her cancer comes back. Lucy is furious, and this catalyses a shaking of her faith. Suddenly her boyfriend Lucas doesn’t understand her anymore, and he’s not being very sensitive to the situation in the way Lucy wants. Like when you’re really angry and all you want is someone to be angry with you but all they do is say stuff like ‘It’s going to work out’ etc etc and you feel like you’re about to explode? Yeah, Lucas is annoying. Lucy and her family always go to Christian camp, with Lucy’s dad being a pastor, and she’s looking forward to spending all this extra time with her mum, but Mum Hansson has something else in mind. She asks Lucy to instead go help at the Rising Sun camp across the lake which cares for troubled kids. And this is when the magic starts.
Lucy – I loved how this book is as much about her faith as it is her family and the relationships she builds during the summer. For a lot of people I know that religious characters are a big nono in books, and to me that’s so upsetting, because what is it about religious teenagers that makes people want to turn away? Though I don’t relate to Lucy’s sense of faith, I’m still in awe of characters like her to believe in something so strongly. I think it’s really important to show teenagers questioning faith, or being dedicated to their religious beliefs.
Lucy in general was just a really gentle character. She was vulnerable and emotional, but she also had great strength. Sometimes she’d word things wrong and people would call her out for it – you know, she makes mistakes – but she was always trying to learn. And I think that The Names They Gave Us did an absolutely incredible job of not being preachy, and showing how religious teens are judged – people thinking they live their lives like it’s the 1900s. Hopefully, it’ll help make people think twice before the judge someone for being religious.
I could see myself returning to this book in times of need to be inspired by how Lucy works through her pain.
NOTE: This was literally the ONLY beef I had with this book: This is such a small point, but as a Youtuber myself, I found it very hard to believe that Lucy was dedicated to her channel. Lucy has a make-up channel called LucyEsMakeup (it doesn’t get brought up often, hence my issue with it) and she says she’s popular enough to have people recognise her on the streets. One girl at camp even tells her that it was her eyeliner tutorial that taught her how to do it well! HOWEVER, in the period of, like 5-6 months that this book covers we didn’t see Lucy sit down to make one YT video. Not even one! Even just a throw away comment at the beginning of the summer where she’s like ‘well, looks like I won’t have time to make any videos for the next two months, thank goodness I pre-filmed some videos! I’ll have to make a quick announcement video about my absence so my subscriber base doesn’t lose complete trust in me.’ That’s too blatant, obviously, but just something of this nature would’ve been much appreciated! The lack of commitment Lucy showed to her hobby really just made it seem like a last minute thing that had been thrown in to make Lucy a more relatable teen.
The friends: Anna, Jones, Simmons, and Tambe – so everyone goes by their surnames (apart from Anna) and I think that’s what the book is called ‘The Names They Gave Us’ because all the kids have to use surnames to show respect/authority. I won’t reveal they’re first names because that was a really fun part of the book, and I enjoyed the anticipation of it! haha!
I pretty sure this group is #squadgoals. At first Lucy feels like she’s intruding on something since the four friends have been together forever and she’s not sure how she’s going to fit in. Each character was distinct and had their own personality and voice, and I really enjoyed the final third of the book where we got to know more about them and their personal stories were revealed. Particularly Anna’s. They’re a diverse bunch, and their chemistry was off the charts good. I wanted to be part of their picnics and nights out too! They had the kind of friendship you want to read about over the summer. Perfection.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much of a slow-build the romance was. Lucy and (I’m not going to spoil it, so we’ll call him X) X really get to know each other as friends first before they progress any further. Obviously, Lucy has a lot on her plate too, and with the whole Lucas thing, it’s a bit complicated. I’m a hard sell on romance, but I thought it was sweet and heart-warming, and their couple moments didn’t scream ‘you should want/you need a relationship like this to be happy’, which as ace, I really appreciate.
The first three months absolutely zip by. The summer is obviously the most important part of the story but the elision felt a little weird to begin with. Still, it gave a succinct overview of Lucy’s life pre-camp, and I didn’t realise just how many seeds were planted in these first few chapters for things that would happen later on!
When we’re in camp, things are a lot slower. It almost becomes like a diary with Lucy noting the exact times and the activities she’s doing with her group, but I LOVED this. There’s always something happening, or something the characters are working towards, so I never found myself getting bored. In fact, I wanted MORE! There are so many little victories for Lucy too, like when she helps a girl learn to swim, or rediscover how much she liked playing the piano. But there are also tense moments too that help create a change of pace. I was always on edge about what was going to happen to Lucy’s mum, and that was a really big driving force of the story.
I don’t know how to feel about the ending because it was very open. It also came about very abruptly, but I liked that it really re-centered on Lucy’s faith. It’s not a huge part of the middle section, but I liked the synergy the finale had with the open. There were also a few big reveals and some gasping moments that I completely wasn’t expecting, which is partly why this book was so surprising. I loved it so much, and I think I’ve found a new favourite contemporary. I can’t wait for everyone else to read this because it really was something special. I have no hesitation when I say this is a 5 star read.