Book: How to Save a Life

How to Save a LifeHow to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: October 18, 2011
ISBN: 0316036064
ISBN-13: 9780316036061
Genre: Fiction – Young Adult, Contemporary
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | eBay | IndieBound

Synopsis: Jill MacSweeny just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends–everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she’s somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one. 

Mandy Kalinowski understands what it’s like to grow up unwanted–to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she’s sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It’s harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?

As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy–or as difficult–as it seems.

Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about the many roads that can lead us home.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a little hesitant to read Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life. From reading the synopsis, I wasn’t sure if this was a story that I would be able to relate to. I wasn’t sure if I was even at a place, emotionally, to be open enough to the subject discussed throughout the book. But many have told me how great a story it is, and how amazing an author Zarr is, so what could I say? I had to give it a chance.

How to Save a Life is about life after. After could be many things, but in the case of Mandy and Jill, it’s about looking for more out of life. For Mandy Kalinowski, a pregnant teen, she is looking for more past the small town dead-end that she would face if she kept this child. She is looking for a better opportunity than what was now presented to her. For Jill Sweeny, she is accepting more changes in her life after her father’s death. Her mother is filling the gaps in her life, which leads to the adoption process for Mandy’s baby. But while the two paths lead to one goal, it isn’t an easy road to acceptance. In fact, it was filled with reluctance, uneasy feelings, and a million self-searching questions that neither one of them can answer.

How to Save a Life, to me, was filled with so much raw emotion that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The characters that Zarr has created was developed so well that I felt they were real. The relationships from one girl to another, and all of them together was realistic and a true representation of relationships that I have seen and experienced. They live through each page, trying to figure out how to live, what they want, and with both Mandy and Jill being so young, it was a wonder that they were able to survive at all.

While on the outside, Mandy and Jill were different, they each shared many similarities. Their coping mechanisms were defensive. They definitely were weary of each other, but wouldn’t we all be given their situations? Their story is subtle and sweet, quietly unfolding into this powerful tale that I feel everyone should read. Each perspective is intense and extreme, and Zarr is not afraid to portray that emotion.

But that was the best part about it. I couldn’t just read the book, I felt it. Zarr is an amazing writer. I am sad to say this was my first book of hers, but it will definitely not be my last.

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