How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

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. (from Barnes & Noble)

The Story:

Jill’s dad died less than a year ago and she and her mom don’t quite meld without him.  He was the glue of the family, the piece that connected them all.  And Jill hasn’t been easy to live with since her father’s death.  She’s pretty moody and difficult, she’s on the outs with her best friends and she’s going through yet another break up with her longtime boyfriend, Dylan.

Robin—Jill’s mom—has decided that what she needs to survive her grief is a bit of hope. That hope comes in the form of Mandy, a pregnant teenage girl from out-of-state who is looking for a family to adopt her baby.  Jill, being the natural cynic, sees about a million things wrong with this picture.  To her, Robin is too old to become a mom again and Mandy seems totally clueless.  Worse, she worries that her mom may get taken advantage of because Mandy and Robin are doing the whole thing without lawyers or any guarantees beyond e-mails and verbal agreements. And though know one really knows, there could be some validity to her concerns.  Mandy is on the run from a painful life marked by a mother who never truly cared for her.  She vows to ensure that her baby’s life will be better.

My Take:

As with all things Sara Zarr, I loved this book.  I think it may actually be my favorite of all of them (and I really have loved them all).  Every character she writes is so rich and so real, and this book is no exception.

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Mandy and Jill. Each girl is so unique in her thoughts and so different in how they view life and yet each has such an incredible capacity to grow and love.  I’ll be honest, at first I had a tough time liking Jill because she’s kind of rude, but as I began to feel her grief and to understand her fears, I grew to adore her.  Mandy is likeable from the start, but she says and does some truly questionable things.  It made me sad for her, for the fact that she’d lived the whole of her life without love and for the lengths that she was willing to go to get it.

Also, of course, there are two great guys in this story and they’re both undeniably sweet. My heart really went out to Dylan, Jill’s on again off again boyfriend—not in a swoony way, but because he was so much a part of the family. He loved them, he grieved with them and he embraced Mandy without skepticism.  That totally warmed my heart. In fact, the whole book made me feel that way. It was everything a Sara Zarr book should be.

Crush Intensity– 5/5 Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.  Read it!

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9 thoughts on “How to Save a Life

  1. Wasn’t it great? I didn’t realize she’s a Christian, although there are definitely themes. I actually realized last night that one of my fellow DC critics is on an Arts and Faith council with her. He talked about how great she is, and how they were all blown away with how humble she was about the NBA nomination. I’ve met my share of both kinds of girls growing up, and I really loved how she handled the topic of grief.

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