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Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Saturday, October 29, 2011
5 Stars: Incredible
Hardcover: 341 Pages
Publication: October 18, 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Jill MacSweeney just wants everything to 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. You can't lose one family member and simply replace him with a new one, and when her mom decides to adopt a baby, that's exactly what it feels like she's trying to do. And that's decidedly not normal. With her world crumbling around her, can Jill come to embrace a new member of the family?

Mandy Kalinowski knows 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, she knows she wants a better life for her baby. But can giving up a child be as easy as it seems? And will she ever be able to find someone to care for her, too?

Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about what it means to be a family and the many roads we can take to become one.

I could have read this book forever, if Sara Zarr only had more to tell. The imagery is so stark and vivid, the characters so filled with such raw, pent-up emotions, that my heart bled for them as I read this book. I haven’t been in either girl’s position before—and I hope that my parents both live long lives—but both girls are entirely relatable. That goes to show Sara Zarr’s genius skills at building characters.

Mandy and Jill are two girls searching for their place in life. Jill has grown distant and rebellious since her father’s death, and she isn’t very thrilled (a huge understatement) by her mother’s decision to adopt the unborn baby of a perfect stranger. She wants to find the old Jill—the good Jill from before her father’s death. On the other hand, Mandy never knew her father. She’s an insecure girl and eight months pregnant. While she knows who she isn’t, she’s having trouble finding the real Mandy. Both are learning to cope with their unexpected situations and to open their hearts.

How to Save a Life is about finding peace and gaining confidence in oneself. While there are love interests, this book isn’t centered on romance. The focus is on the internal struggles that Mandy and Jill must conquer to find peace with themselves. I love this book and recommend it to those of you who enjoy books about individuals searching for their personal identities. I’m definitely be looking forward to more books by Sara Zarr!


A copy was provided by the publisher for review purposes

3 comments on "Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr"
  1. I haven't had good experiences with Sara Zarr so I don't know about this one. One thing I can say is that her books are packed with emotion. I'm glad you liked this one, though. Maybe I'll pick it up.

  2. Awesome that it's not all about the romance that's actually very refreshing. I'm really intrigued by this one it's been getting really good feedback.

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  3. Sara Zarr is one of my favorite teen lit writers . . . right up there with Jay Asher and Laurie Halse Anderson . . . so I eagerly opened her newest novel expecting greatness. And that's exactly what I got!
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