Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Photo Property of Hachette Book Group

How to Save a Life

By Sara Zarr
ISBN: 9780316036061
Published on: 10/18/2011
Subformat: YOUNG ADULT

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.

Description:  Sara Zarr has a poetic way of describing scenes and people.  It's almost musical. Her words flow easily through my mind, painting a clear picture without overwhelming the senses.  Right from the start, How to Save a Life  drew me in and held my attention. (Score: 9/10)

Narrative:  Jill and Mandy are teens from different backgrounds brought together because of their own individual circumstances. How to Save a Life is told from alternating perspectives of the two girls.  To accomplish this, Sara Zarr utilized quite a bit of narrative.  This lead to a lot of background information presented per character.  And it's done beautifully.  I felt I was able to really know both girls. True fact: I couldn't read this book in public due to inability to control spontaneous tearful outbursts.  Yup-the narrative in this story was every thing a great book should be. (Score: 10/10)

Dialogue: I think Sara Zarr is really a teen hiding behind an adult.  The dialogue in this book is so authentic I could hear the voices in my head. (Okay, maybe I shouldn't admit that, but it's TRUE. lol) Sometimes in books, though, it's tough to tell the grown up speech from the teen speech; but not in How to Save a Life.  Even without tags, it was easy to pick up who was speaking when. (Score: 9/10)

Characterization: The characters in How to Save a Life stay in my mind even though I finished the book weeks ago.  To me, they were real people who shared their stories only with me.  I wonder how things are working out, and then laugh at myself because it's all made up.  That's great characterization and I can only hope to be that talented one day. (Score: 9/10)

Resolution:  Sara Zarr's book endings always make me sad because the experience is over.  Other than that, the resolutions are always perfect for me in every way: conclusive yet open ended enough to think for myself.   I want more.  I need more.  It's rare that I read a book over again, but ALL of Sara Zarr's books are on my bookshelf to be pilfered through when I need a fix.  I guess I'd say her books never end for me and that's the greatest resolution of all. (Score: 9/10)

I'm not going to lie.  I'm biased.  I've loved Sara Zarr's books since I first stumbled upon Story of a Girl while doing research for my own YA novel. Oh, and yeah, I took a workshop with her in June, but besides THAT I really think she is one of the greatest writers of realistic fiction out there.  ALL of her books have touched upon issues of my heart-personal things that I really don't think I can talk about here. 

But, How to Save a Life's impact I can discuss.  My father died suddenly seven years ago.  I'm an adult and was an adult when I lost him, but Jill's expression of grief was SO VERY close to mine that it felt like I lost him yesterday.  This summer, after reading How to Save a Life I grieved his loss all over again.  Even writing this blog has tears forming in my eyes.  Sara Zarr put thoughts into words that I can't verbalize.  Better yet, she gave me tools to share with others what it feels like to lose a parent. And that's only ONE of the issues she touches upon in this book.

How to Save a Life is a great read for anyone who enjoys heart wrenching, inspiring and beautiful stories all wrapped up in one.  It's genre is Young Adult, but I believe it's much broader than that.  The topics are applicable to most age groups.  I'm thinking this one, much like her others, will be up for many different awards.  I'd rate this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.

For a great review with a discussion of a different issue, check out Sera River's blog

AND for an inspiring interview of Sara Zarr click on over to Thalo Magazine.

1 comment:

  1. Hey! Thanks for linking to my blog. I will add your link into mine :) And Yes, I agree that Sara is one of the best realistic fiction writers out there. She is my mentor, my hero. She is amazing. Great review!