Author: Sara Zarr
Publication Date: 10/18/11
Publisher: Little Brown
Blurb (GR): 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.
Reading Sara Zarr reminds me of that old Hemingway quote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Boy does she know how to do that. Only, she translates every emotion with such stark, raw purity that it feels like I am the one bleeding. Maybe not everyone has been a pregnant teenager with a dreadful home life or a hostile, sarcastic girl who’s just lost her closest support, but I think that it would be hard for anyone not to find something to relate to in these girls.
Mandy and Jill are two girls who want more. Mandy is eight months pregnant and takes a desperate chance on Robin, a middle aged widow who agrees to adopt her child with no contracts, lawyers, or social workers. Jill is Robin’s daughter, still reeling from the loss of her father only a year ago, and highly suspicious of Mandy and her motivations. These girls couldn’t possibly have less in common, but they are thrown together, and they may end up
impacting each other’s lives in unexpected ways.
Each Sara Zarr novel that I have read features a young woman dealing with conflict in her life and learning to cope, and yet none of these girls feel at all like the same person. Each novel feels original. And that’s true here as well: Mandy and Jill have very distinct personalities and voices. I could relate to Mandy’s insecurity as a potential mother, to her confusion about who she is, to her firm conviction about who she’s not. I could also relate to Jill; to her desperate fear of love and intimacy, after experiencing real loss for the first time.
I like the love interests, but I love that they don’t play a major role in this story. This is a story about Mandy and Jill finding peace and certainty within themselves, and learning to trust. The only part of this story that doesn’t feel quite real to me is the end. But, I think that most of you know by now that I have a hard time with happy endings. What seems incongruous to me, will probably only increase the popularity of this book. Who doesn’t love a happy
Maybe it’s because I could relate so much to Mandy’s doubts that she would be a good mother. That’s not something that goes away as soon as your baby is born and placed into your arms. There’s no magical balm for that. I have had to earn what little confidence I have piece by piece, one bedtime, one meal, one scraped knee at a time. I guess I wanted to see some of that in Mandy – that everything wasn’t magically fixed. And I know that Christopher should be told about the baby, but it felt too much like Mandy seeking for some kind of outside completion, outside validation. She doesn’t need that.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Mumford & Sons – Timshel
I love this album for these books. This song is such a healing balm, which is something that I think both Mandy and Jill need. It has two distinct phrases, which remind me so much of Mandy and Jill.
"Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance"
"And you are the mother
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars"