January 12, 2012

Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Format: Hardcover, 341 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary/Realistic Fiction
Published October 18, 2011 by Little Brown Books for Young Readers
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Rating 5+ out of 5
Summary from Goodreads:

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.
If you don't know what the 5+ out of 5 rating means, that means it's probably one of my favorites of the year or of all time.  (I believe I stole the 5+ idea from the awesome Ficticious Delicious blog).  So yeah, I really really really loved this book.

First off, this book was NOTHING like what I expected.  SO MUCH better than what I expected.  So with the title, I went into this book thinking it would be about suicide.  After reading the synopsis, I thought it would be one of those typical teen pregnancy books.  This book was neither of these things.  This was a story of two very different teenage girls who both find love in family and their place in a world that frankly, sucks.

The story started off a little slow, but once I became more attached to the characters, I couldn't stop reading.  I literally read this 300 something page book in one sitting.  I know people say that all the time, but this NEVER happens to me.  I maybe got up once to pee/eat or something, but besides that I couldn't tear my eyes away from this book.

Jill lives in a typical middle class home with her mother, but her father's death has affected her life so much she's isolated herself from her friends and has grown slightly bitter about life.  Out of Jill and Mandy, Jill felt like the more relatable, rebellious teenage girl who grows up in a typical home.  Mandy lived with her mother and whatever boyfriend her mother would have at the time.  In the flashbacks, Mandy's mother made me SO MAD how she was always putting down Mandy, and always saying things like "Girls act like this... girls act like that...".  Once Mandy realizes she's pregnant, she decides that she wants to keep the baby and get away from her old life.  She is letting Jill's mother to adopt the baby, so until the baby is born, Mandy goes to live with Jill and her mother.  And that is where the book begins.

Admittedly, this is a very character-y book rather than plot-y, so I'm mostly talking about the characters. I really love the alternating POVs, both Mandy and Jill felt so real to me and although they both annoyed me a bit at first, I grew to love both of them.  These girls are so different and grew up in such different backgrounds, but I  definitely identified with both of them.  I felt their joy and I felt their pain.  Now that I think about it, it's a little weird.  But good weird, definitely good.  I can only imagine what reading would be like if I felt like this for every character I read.

Of the two girls, Mandy was my favorite.  Although I legitimately thought she was crazy at first, once I got to know about her and her background I realized how wrong I was.  Mandy was a truly sweet and strong character, I loved seeing her grow throughout the novel.  Even after everything she had been through, she still trusted people and didn't give up, and wanted a better future for her child than the one she knew she couldn't give it.

I was very satisfied with the ending.  It's crazy how much I wanted these non-existent people to be happy after all the grief they've experienced.  I loved how both Mandy and Jill come to terms with their struggles and eventually find peace and comfort.  I realize that my incompetence through this review makes this book sound really lame, but I just cannot express how awesome it is!

Sara Zarr writes a beautiful, raw, and poignant story in How to Save a Life, and I highly recommend this book to everyone!  Whether you're a guy or girl, young or not so young (maybe best for not too young), like contemp or not, like books or not, etc.  I dare you to try not to become emotionally attached to the story and it's characters.  This was my first Sara Zarr book, but now I know she is such a GENIUS writer I will be sure to read ANYTHING she writes now!


  1. I have this book on my TBR shelf... looks like I'll have to bump it up! I've wanted to read it for awhile, but somehow other books get in the way. I think the synopsis on the back can't do the book justice--the same problem you felt you ran into in the review. Still, your review makes me excited to get to this book!

  2. @JP Yays, I hope you get to read it soon! :D Haha yep, it's very difficult to sum up this book's awesomeness!