Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Happy New Year! I'm super excited about the new books 2012 will bring, and when looking back on my favorites of 2011, Sara Zarr's How to Save a Life stands at the top of the pack. I'm always eager to get my hands on Zarr's new books as soon as I can because her fiction offers a raw and realistic look at humanity that draws me in from the very first line. I read How to Save a Life in one sitting, staying up late into the morning.

Jill MacSweeny is grieving over the sudden death of her father, the parent she most identified with and felt closest to. She's effectively shut out all of her friends, her boyfriend, and her mother who is also grief stricken.  When Jill's mother decides to adopt a baby, Jill can't help but feeling that her mom is trying to replace her dad with a new baby.

Mandy has grown up in a world completely different than Jill's. Her mother has gone from man to man, in search of the one that will take care of her, making Mandy feel unwanted and like a burden for her entire life. When Mandy ends up pregnant, she is sure of one thing - she must give her baby a better life and seeks out a family who will adopt the newborn.

When Mandy comes to live with the MacSweenys until the baby is born, it's heartbreaking, yet sometimes humorous. While Mandy is getting accustomed to living in a wealthy home and eating "chewy" bread forced on her by Jill's health-conscious mother, Jill teases her for her naivety and is less than welcoming. But as time progresses, they all learn how to deal with grief and change and come to understand the true meaning of family.

Sara Zarr expertly weaves a beautiful story together with the alternating voices of Jill and Mandy. The pain they're both experiencing is raw and heart wrenching. Jill works at a bookstore, and that's the only place where she can be herself:

The sad fact about me and work is that I'm my best self when I'm here. I can be human to strangers and coworkers, just not to the people who actually care about me. Pg. 81

When the baby's birth is getting closer, Mandy finds herself having to make a courageous decision:
All my life the only reliable person, the one I could count on, the one who hasn't abandoned me, is me. What I can't figure out is what staying means and what leaving means. If I stay, it means I'm willing to abandon my daughter. If I leave, I think maybe I'm abandoning myself. And that's one thing that, through all of this, I've never done. Page 294.
 In the end, Mandy realizes she can't make her decision alone, and a tiny baby brings them all together in a way they never expected.

This is a powerful story that I highly recommend.

Reading Level: Young Adult | ISBN: 978-0316036061 | Source: Bought personal copy

Author's Website: http://www.sarazarr.com/

Buy this book! 

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  1. Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful review (and a couple of quotes). I love Zarr's work and am very excited to pick up this one.