Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Review: How to Save a Life

...what it means to be a family and the many roads we can take to become one...

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?

How to Save a Life is written in first person narrative, alternating between Jill and Mandy. Jill has recently lost her father, her best friend. And she's a new person. Old Jill is nowhere to be found. She's coping in her own way, and her mother, Robin, is coping in her own way. One way her mother is coping is by taking Mandy in. Mandy is a pregnant teenager who wants to give her child up for adoption. To Robin. So after leaving her mother and Kent, Mandy travels by train to Denver to meet her baby's new family. 

Jill is against the adoption completely. She doesn't want a sister, and she doesn't want to see her mother get hurt should things not go as planned. And Jill has good reasons to not trust Mandy. She's lied about important details like the due date, and she refuses to go through legal channels. Red flag, right?

Mandy frustrated me at first. But I came to realize that it wasn't actually her. It was her mother. Someone we don't even see over the course of the story except in flashbacks and explanations for why Mandy is the way she is. (Her momma needs to be slapped hard.) And that's when I started to like Mandy. Which happened to be about the same time I started disliking Jill. I rarely see myself as characters in books. Sometimes I'll find a character I can identify with through a few commonalities. But with Jill, there were more than just a few. Even when she ticked me off and I wanted to slap her, I could see myself doing the same dumb thing, making the same mistakes. There are so many things I want to say but won't for fear of giving too much away. 

Due to many similarities between myself and Jill, and the similarities with me/my mom and Jill/her dad, it took me a bit longer to finish How to Save a Life than most novels. Sara Zarr's writing is fantastic, and I often found myself overwhelmed to the point where I had to put it down. The story was incredible and beautifully told and so realistic you feel like you're right there. If you loved Sara Zarr's other books, you'll love this one too. It might be my new favorite of hers. And any lover of contemporary YA will enjoy this one. Don't care for contemporaries? This one just might change your mind. I can't wait to see what Sara Zarr comes out with next!


Samual @ Books For All Seasons said...

I like Mandy too. I feel bad for her because Jill isn't too nice to Mandy. I don't really like Jill much at the beginning. I think Jill could do better or try to understand Mandy's situation. I'm half way through the book. I am liking it so far. Great review! Thank you for sharing!

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