Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Review: How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr. The GoodReads summary:
Jill MacSweeney 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.
For the first three-fourths of this book, I wasn’t sure if I was going to end up liking it. Mainly because for the first part Mandy annoyed me, and then, when I was finally warming up to her, Jill started driving me crazy. But I came around to them both, eventually.

Mandy, I had a hard time with because at first she comes off as so shallow and na├»ve. I reacted to her a bit like Jill does as first, thinking she’s dumb and probably trying to scam Jill’s mother. But I really came to like Mandy, actually. Like Jill finally admits, “That Mandy. She might not be the smartest person to ever walk the earth, but she has a kind of power about her you have to admire.” And I really did come to admire her—she has a hidden strength I wasn’t expecting.

And speaking of Jill, I had the opposite reaction to her as I did to Mandy. At first, I liked her fine. But Jill’s cynicism and inability to just suck it up and be nice to those around her started grating on my nerves. At least Jill realizes she has that problem, though. But even more than her attitude, I hated how Jill falls for Ravi while she’s still with Dylan. She doesn’t even feel bad about it. And Dylan’s such a good guy—I wanted to smack Jill every time she flirted with Ravi. I just don’t understand why she didn’t break up with Dylan when she knew she had feelings for Ravi. Ug. Anyway, despite that, after Jill loses the attitude towards the end of the book, I started liking her again.

Anyway, my like/dislike of Mandy and Jill aside, I thought this book did a pretty good job at exploring how all the different parties involved in an open adoption would feel—from the doubts, to the uncertainty, to the excitement. It’s a tough situation, and I’m glad this book didn’t try to gloss over the problems and make everything easy. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by the ending and how it all works out. The solution was different than I had anticipated, but I ended up thinking it was pretty perfect.

Overall, despite it taking me a lot of time to warm up to the characters, I think it’s a worthwhile book. While I’m not always the biggest Sara Zarr fan, I always admire her willingness to tackle issues that don’t get brought up very often in YA fiction. And really, I think this is the Sara Zarr book I like best so far.

Rating: 3.5 / 5


  1. I never really came around to liking these girls-I'm so glad to see someone who also had problems with them!

  2. Zarr always does a good job of writing characters that get under your skin and even though you don't necessarily like them, you keep reading anyway. She doesn't really ever go for the feel good ending which sometimes puts me off but then I realise it's prob a lot more realistic.

  3. I had trouble liking either of the girls right away, either. I cringed when Mandy kept writing letters to that guy from the train. But eventually I warmed up to her. And I liked that all the other characters were much nicer to Jill than she deserved.
    I think Zarr does a good job of making very flawed characters. Her descriptions of pregnancy were kind of off, but oh well. :)

  4. I have to agree with you - I don't think I'm the biggest Sara Zarr fan. I love her writing and appreciate her willingness to tackle on such serious issues in truly moving ways, and while her stories eventually suck me in, it takes a bit of time. I think, more than anything else, I have a tremendous amount of respect for her. I'd never think to pick up her books again after one read since they're so dark, but she's a great writer, no doubt. Wonderful review though, Karen. I still have to read this one, so perhaps I'll get around to it soon - I definitely want to!


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