Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

How To Save a Life
Sara Zarr
Published: 2011
Young Adult Contemporary

Each chapter in How to Save a Life alternates between two first person accounts: Jill, who grieves the loss of her father by withdrawing from friends and her boyfriend, and Mandy, a pregnant teen who connects with Jill's mom on an adoption website - Jill's mother wants to move on from her loss by adopting Mandy's baby.

What Jill and her mother don't know about Mandy is although she's technically an adult at 18, Mandy dropped out of school and ran away from an abusive home situation. The website she and Jill's mom communicate through is for people wanting to handle their own adoptions outside usual channels. Jill warns her mother not to trust an adoption with no real paperwork and social worker, but her mother is convinced and invites Mandy to live with them for her last few weeks of pregnancy.

This might seem like a forced premise, but to the author's credit, each character's intentions are detailed so succinctly, I never doubted it. Jill's mother isn't a shrill, irrational woman; she's flawed, but her intentions are to honor her late husband by moving forward with adoption plans they'd already considered before he died. She's aware she could be "filling the void" and embraces this, thinking that helping a struggling teen like Mandy will force her to move on. Jill is rightly confused and angry at her mother. Isn't she enough? Why does her mother need another child? Jill continues to push away the people closest to her, and every day she loses more of the girl she used to be.

When Mandy moves in, there's tension between the girls from the start. Mandy is beautiful but simple-minded with no clear goals for after the baby is born. Jill is harsh and judgemental. Jill starts poking into Mandy's past to find out what she's really up to. Jill's mother is aware of how Mandy's presence affects Jill, and she wonders if she's doing the right thing by helping Mandy. It's clear she's feeling the pressure of navigating life without her pragmatic husband.

The characters' progressions are expertly written, and I appreciate that elements that could have turned cliche were fleshed out and explored in realistic ways. This is a definite recommended read if you like Young Adult Contemporary. I'm quite a fan of Sara Zarr after reading How to Save a Life, and have since then read her novel Sweethearts from a few years back.

Sidenote: Every time I picked up this book, the song by The Fray of the same name popped into my head. Every time!


  1. I love when an author is realistic in their writing. It makes it easier to connect. I haven't read anything by Sara Zarr but will definitely have to check this out.

  2. I like the sound of this one. It sounds like an interesting twist on the usual teen pregnancy plot.

  3. I have this audiobook and I'm excited to get to it!!!


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