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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

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.
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.
This book was brilliant. 

If you've read any of my reviews, you probably know that I usually start with a description at the beginning. This description usually explains how I came to read the book and what I thought about it in a few concise sentences. These introductions can be about a paragraph or two, and are usually longer than I'd like them to be. 

But for How to Save a Life , I have nothing else to say. Besides the fact that this book was brilliant. 

Seriously, I could end the review right here -- because "this book was brilliant" perfectly explains How to Save a Life . And I'm almost tempted to just end the review here, just tell everyone GO BUY THIS BOOK and post this review online

But, no, I'll go ahead, fine, write a decent review where I critique -- no, gushabout this book. Because, and I'm going to say it again, this book is brilliant. 

The story switches back and forth between two perspectives: Mandy and Jill. Jill's father, who she was very close to, has recently died. Jill has fallen into a depressive state, becoming bitter and cruel to everyone around her. Jill's parents had been very into working with foster children, but their work was cut short by his death. Jill's mother, Robin, still desperately wants a baby, so she strikes an online agreement with Mandy, a nineteen-year-old pregnant girl. Mandy will live with Jill and her mother for the remainder of her pregnancy, and once the child is born Robin will adopt the child and Mandy will return to her hometown. Jill is strongly against the idea, thinking that her mother simply wants a baby to replace her deceased husband. Mandy, timid and afraid, is worried that her secrets will be unveiled and Robin will kick her out from their house. The two girls must try to work out their differences together, and try and understand their separate issues and problems. 

This is by no means a plot driven novel. This book is all about the characters. But first, I will admit that I wasn't interested in reading a book about teen pregnancy. It seems a bit too....out there, gimmicky in almost a way. I for one hate teen pregnancy shows -- especially considering the fact that those girls get themselves in horrible relationships and lose their babies due to poor decisions -- and I was worried Zarr would make the pregnancy plot silly or stupid. But no. She did it in her brilliant way -- note that I overuse the word brilliant in this review -- and made the pregnancy storyline relatable, interesting, and realistic. And yes, the plot ends somewhat predictably, but does it matter? No. You really feel for the characters, you really want them to have their wonderful happy endings.There's really nothing else to say about the plot besides that; it was slow moving at times, yes, but it was very, very interesting and fascinating and a great look at teen pregnancy, its effects, and human emotions. From that descriptor -- pregnancy, effects, human emotions -- it could seem like a lot to fit in one novel, but Zarr makes it work perfectly. 

The characters are really what made me love this book. Zarr allows you to see into both Jill and Mandy's heads, letting you see both of them and making you relate to both of them so, so much. You really feel their pain and forgiveness and really hope that everything will be okay, that everything will be alright in the end. That's the strength of this novel, allowing you to see and understand and feel so much for these girls. I really felt for both Jill and Mandy. They had such distinct voices -- Jill's hard and tough, Mandy's slightly naive and lost. I wanted them to have their happy endings, for everything to turn out okay. But all I could do was read, flip through the pages to an ending that I hoped for -- and loved. I loved all the characters, really; the slow burn of romance with Ravi and Dylan, both fully-fleshed out characters; Robin with her hopes and dreams and pains of her own; and even Jill's father, Mac, who is a major character as well. The characters were amazing, and I really felt their pain and needs and dreams. 

Zarr's writing is gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. I've said in other reviews before that I went through and read the cadence of the words, feeling every rhythmic beat and feeling in the word. I did the same here, for Zarr's writing. Her writing is simple but so evocative, and I loved the cadence of each and every word. I will definitely be adding the rest of her books to my to-read list. Brilliant. 

So in a nutshell, I loved this poignant, brilliant book that reminds me why I love contemporary YA so much. If you like contemporary YA, or really just YA in general, you should read and savor this book. I will be seeking out Zarr's writing in the future. 


Five stars.

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