Book lovers want to find stories that sweep them away and leave them gasping. But to find a book that digs deep into who you are as a person is another matter entirely. I could read every exciting adventure out there, every intergalactic war or dragon riding expedition, but without something more, it’s just another story. When I find books that understand me, they capture me in a completely different way. The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord is a book that knows me. Not that I know it or understand it. But it makes me feel known, it makes me feel understood. And I can’t thank Emery Lord enough for writing this book.
When Lucy’s mom announces her cancer has come back, Lucy falls apart, breaking up with her boyfriend, her steady faith, and her commitment to summer church camp. Instead, at the suggestion of her mother, she volunteers as a counselor at a camp for kids who have been through hardships. At this camp, Lucy learns how to open up about her problems as she makes new friends and new discoveries, all the while trying to juggle her mother’s cancer and what it means to have faith.
The Names They Gave Us is by no means a perfect story. There were parts that made me angry, parts that disappointed me, and parts that made me want to shut the book and walk away from it forever. There were some twists I wouldn’t have gone with if I had been writing this book, and there were some moments I don’t agree with. But for every flaw, there was always another reason to keep reading.
I’ve always been a bit unsatisfied with books about faith. A lot of them are cliche or cheesy with unrealistic happily ever afters. But this book—this heart-wrenching, funny book—is the kind of book about faith that I want to see more of. This book portrayed having faith in one of the most realistic ways I’ve ever read. It’s messy, complicated, and hard. It’s imperfect. But most importantly, it’s real.
Lucy was hard character to like at first. I’ve fortunately never been in her situation, but it wasn’t hard to relate to her. The burdens of life, the hardships and the storms—they come in all shapes and sizes, and while I’ve never experienced someone close in my life having cancer, I understood Lucy’s bitterness and rebellion. I understood her need for answers, her need to know why this was happening her. I understood her desire to act out. It wasn’t easy to read because her behavior made me stop and think about how I treated other people, how my actions and attitude affected others, and it wasn’t always a pretty answer. But that’s life. That’s faith.
This book was like reading a piece of my soul, out in the open for all to see. I loved the story. I loved the characters and the camp. Last summer I went on a missions trip to Florida and helped at camp a lot like the camp in this book. I met those kids who had been through hardships, who had bad homes or lived in poverty. I held hands with those kids. I gave hugs to those kids. I loved on those kids. So this book hit home with me because the camp descriptions all felt so real.
I can’t say this book will be for everybody. But this book was for me. If Emery Lord wrote this book for one person, I will say it was for me. It let me face my own doubts and questions. It let me feel like I wasn’t alone in this world. Sure, there are a lot of fun moments in this book. Moments that lighten up the darker themes such as cancer or teen pregnancy or abuse. There are a lot of wonderful, adorable moments in between the hard parts, which reflect life as well. Life isn’t all dark or all light. It’s a mix, and this book has shown me that no matter the outcome, no matter what is in the past, I can choose to move forward. I can choose who to be.
So thank you, Emery Lord. Thank you for writing this story. This story that broke my heart but also made me laugh, made me cry, and made me want to throw the book across the room. Thank you for understanding and being unashamed to write a book like this. Thank you for making me feel known.