Author: Sara Zarr
Publication Date: 10/18/11
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Adults
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.
Frankly, I was taken aback by the synopsis of Sara Zarr's new novel when I first read it. Told from the perspectives of 2 teen girls - Mandy, who is pregnant and is considering to give up her baby for adoption, and Jill, the only daughter of a recently widowed woman who wants to take in Mandy's child - it felt just too cheaply 16 and Pregnant to me. Plus there are some themes in YA that I absolutely have no interest in reading about - teen pregnancy is right there, at the top of that list. But I was proven once again that a good writer can crash my preconceived notions. In How to Save a Life Sara Zarr offers something very special.
What Zarr is best as is character development. Both protagonists in this novel are fairly unlikable.
Jill is mourning her father. Essentially, she is a mean bitch. Yes, she has an excuse - her dad's death - but she is still a very unpleasant person - cynical, rude and off-putting.
And then there is Mandy. Mandy made me very uncomfortable at first. You know the type of people who throw themselves at you, needing attention, who will stick to you and will tell you everything about their lives and will consider you their best friend within a few minutes of knowing you? That is Mandy.
I don't know how Zarr does it, but once again she made me appreciate her characters that I first thought very difficult and unpleasant. Maybe not love them, but understand them and revel in their growth and transformation. These two girls' journey to accept and get the best out of each other was truly magical.
I believe How to Save a Life is Sara Zarr's best novel to date. It certainly made me cry harder than any other book of hers. One astute friend of mine pointed out the biggest flaw of this work to me - its utterly predictable outcome - and I absolutely agree with it, however the novel was so marvelously consuming that I didn't even realize that the ending was exactly the one I wished for. Is this a bad thing?