Emery Lord, you are reaching Sarah Dessen status. I can give you no higher praise. The Names They Gave Us, is my favorite of her four books.
Lucy’s life is going just swell, thank you very much. She is secure in her Christianity, her chaste relationship with her BF of two years, her summer job as counselor at the church camp run by her parents, and her role as perfect daughter to her awesome, loving, mom and dad. Her life gets shaken up big time when three things happen: 1) she gets “paused” by her BF (paused, what a jerk); 2) her mom’s cancer returns; and 3) Mom strongly suggests (in other words, forces) Lucy spend the summer at what everyone knows as the “hippie camp” across the lake, counseling troubled children instead of working at the only summer job she’s ever known, comfy and cozy in a safe environment with her parents right there for familiarity, help, and encouragement. Mom thinks it’s time Lucy gets out of her comfort zone. Why? Lucy thinks it might be so she can get some counseling, too (many of the kids have sick or dead parents). Lucy knows her mom is hoping Lucy will develop some real friendships at this camp (friendship with non-church kids? What???). Maybe Mom thinks some time counseling kids with issues will help Lucy with the rough road ahead (cancer). Maybe Mom has some secrets that time at Camp Daybreak will reveal. After all, Mom seems awfully close to Daybreak’s owner … At first, Daybreak is tough. She’s in charge of some very needy 3rd graders. Some of the counselors seem cool but her bunkmate is cold and quiet and all of the counselors have been friends forever. They even attended Daybreak together as campers when they were little. Although Lucy thinks it will be impossible, a little bit of time allows Lucy to finally start acting like herself, revealing a little bit of her story and begins to develop those friendships for which her mother so desperately wished.
At the heart of this story is Lucy’s test of faith. She has never questioned her faith in God, but her idyllic life has never really given her any reason to question Him. Now that her life seems to be falling apart and she should be relying on her faith now more than ever, she can’t do it. She’s angry. She’s questioning. She’s doubting. She never would have guessed that her interactions with her campers that need her so much and her newly developing friendships (and more than friendships, oh, Henry Jones, you adorable trumpet playing old soul) with her fellow counselors would lead her to a strengthening of her faith and belief in herself.
I have read very few YA books that feature a central Christian theme that were not preachy, overly squeaky clean, or that presented God or religion as bad, cultish, or closed-minded.. Lord (the author, lol) beautifully weaves religion into all of the aspects of this coming of age novel. Religion is just a part of who Lucy is - she’s a daughter, a swimmer, a counselor, a Christian, a friend, etc. Lord (again, lol) just presents the religion as a piece of Lucy’s personality. Brilliant.