Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: How to Save a Life

Summary: 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. -- Little Brown

I have heard some fantastic things about young adult author Sara Zarr; however, it wasn't until recently that I understood what all of the fuss was about. Just a few days ago, I picked up her latest novel HOW TO SAVE A LIFE and I immediately understood why she is an award winning author. I absolutely loved this story and I couldn't put down this book.

I am definitely not alone in my praise of this novel about two very different, but equally troubled teens. HOW TO SAVE A LIFE has already been given Starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. In addition, it's a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2011 and an Amazon Best Book for October. So in light of all that wonderful praise, I probably don't need to say much more about this book. However, because this book touched my heart like it did, I thought I'd share some of my more personal feeling about HOW TO SAVE A LIFE.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE tells the story of Jill and Mindy, two teen girls whose lives are brought together when Jill's mother wants to adopt Mindy's baby. Jill is still trying to recover from her father's death, and as a result, has pushed away all of her friends (and her boyfriend.) Mindy, on the other hand, has her own set of issues. Besides being young and pregnant, she doesn't know who is the father of her baby, and she is running away from a troubled home. You can probably see where this is going, but when the two girls meet, Jill is less than crazy about Mindy and doesn't treat her very well.

As I look back on that last paragraph, it tells the framework of this story in very general terms, but it doesn't begin to touch upon the scope of this novel. HOW TO SAVE A LIFE affected me deeply and touched me like few books do. (And if I'm being entirely honest, I was surprised because it was a young adult novel and I wasn't expecting it to move me like it did. I'm not exactly the target audience for a book like this!) Now maybe it's because I'm a mother, but these two girls got under my skin; and my heart broke for both of them over and over again. In fact, I was reading this novel while waiting to pick up my son at his elementary school and I had tears running down my face -- and it wasn't even the end!

I have to give major kudos to Ms. Zarr for writing HOW TO SAVE A LIFE. First and foremost, it's beautifully written story -- from the prose, to the storyline, and especially to the character development. It was incredibly honest and emotional (and even gut-wrenching), but it was also a book that caused me to think. This novel explored love and relationships on many levels, and it also showed the power to change. I found it to be almost inspirational because I so appreciated how these two girls grew (and healed) as a result of their "friendship."

Another thing that really stood out to me about this novel was how Ms. Zarr chose to tell the story. She alternated chapters between Jill and Mindy, and I have to say that I think it was a perfect way to share both girls' lives. She did an outstanding job of capturing the girls' voices and it allowed me to get to know (and understand) both of them. By actually being able to read their own words, I felt as if I was inside of their minds. I truly understood their thoughts and actions, and I admit that it made Jill much more likable to me. Because Jill was in so much pain, she lashed out at those who cared about her. Had I not been able to get inside of her mind and see her insecurities and anger, I'm not sure I would have appreciated her as much -- and therefore, loved the book like I did!

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE would be a perfect mom/daughter book club selection. Because it does delve into parent/child relationships, there is a lot of room for discussion. In addition, I think these two girls, while each battling her own demons, demonstrate a fair amount of authentic teen feelings. Girls will relate to either Jill or Mindy (or maybe both!) There is a reading guide available which has fifteen fantastic questions. Some of the topics you  might want to explore include love, loss, grief, forgiveness, acceptance, parent/child relationships, friendships, families, sacrifice, and adoption. In addition, I think the title of the book is interesting to analyze as well.

I absolutely loved HOW TO SAVE A LIFE and I can't wait to read more of Ms. Zarr's books. I think I might even have one around here somewhere. Do yourself a favor and read this novel!

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel

13 comments:

bermudaonion said...

This sounds fabulous! I can't wait to get my hands on it. I read Once Was Lost by the same author and just loved it.

Beth F said...

I think I'd better add Zarr to my list of authors to read. What an enthusiastic review.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Oh, I want to read this SO BAD!!! I need to take a break from murders. And I can't get that song with the same title out of my head...

Serena said...

This sounds excellent...and a good selection for book clubs.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I just finished this last week. Believe it or not this is the least dark Zarr book!

Beth Kephart said...

I am really looking forward to this one — how wonderful to see your love of the book!

Beth Hoffman said...

Oh no! Yet another title to add to my list. It sounds wonderful. I have no idea how I'll read all these books... LOL!

reviewsbylola said...

I have been meaning to read something by Zarr and this one sounds like a great book to start with!

Anna said...

I don't read too much YA but this one sounds fantastic. And I just love the cover!

Karlie said...

This sounds fantastic! Now if I could get myself back to reading...

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I received this book last week and now I am very anxious to read it. What a great review! I may have to bump this to the top of the pile. This will be my first book by this author.

Kailana said...

Oh, this sounds really good. I am going to see about getting a copy!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

This does sound perfect for a mother-daughter(teen) book group) - thanks for introducing me to Ms. Zarr!