How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

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Title: How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
Release Date: October 18, 2011 (hardcover)
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 352
Source: ARC provided by publisher

Overall: 4 Stars

Jill MacSweeney just wants everything to 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. You can't lose one family member and simply replace him with a new one, and when her mom decides to adopt a baby, that's exactly what it feels like she's trying to do. And that's decidedly not normal. With her world crumbling around her, can Jill come to embrace a new member of the family?

Mandy Kalinowski knows 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, she knows she wants a better life for her baby. But can giving up a child be as easy as it seems? And will she ever be able to find someone to care for her, too?

Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about what it means to be a family and the many roads we can take to become one.

My Thoughts:
How to Save a Life marks the first time I've ever read a novel by Sara Zarr, but it most certainly won't be the last after reading her latest release! It's a coming-of-age story filled with hope and overcoming grief, but it also places value on the bonds and love that tie a family together. Sara Zarr has truly written a wonderfully compelling novel!

I'll admit, I have a tendency to shy away from stories involving pregnancies, but there was something so emotionally-charged about How to Save a Life that I found myself immediately drawn in and curious to learn more. Jill and Mandy are two completely opposite girls... and their outlooks on life are so very different from each other. It offered a wonderful contrasting view on how Mandy's unborn child would forever change both of their lives. For Mandy, it's a chance to give her child the happy childhood she always wanted... and for Jill, she sees it as her mother trying to replace her beloved father who passed away almost a year ago.

Mandy is a well-intentioned, if not naive, girl who's trying to do the right thing for everyone... even if that means her future beyond giving birth is still uncertain. Despite having a negligent mother who dismissed her worth, there's a certain sweetness to Mandy that I'm glad never hardened. And then there's Jill, who's angry and bitter that her father could be taken away so soon. For months, she's been pushing everyone away, including her boyfriend and friends, unable to face their consolations... and she doesn't see how her mother adopting a baby is going to solve anything. Not when it isn't going to bring her father back.

You would think that with alternating viewpoints, it may have been difficult to get into the story... but Sara Zarr made it so easy to slip right into both of their emotions. If you're looking for a strong, character-driven contemporary novel that will touch your heart, then I'm sure How to Save a Life may just be a perfect novel to read next. The ending may have been pieced together a little too conveniently... but then again, I don't think I would have wanted it any other way. There's nothing more satisfying in a novel than seeing characters you care about finding the happiness they deserve.

Thanks so much to Hachette Book Group Canada for providing this review copy! You can learn more about Sara Zarr's How to Save a Life on Hachette's website, and if you're not already doing so, don't forget to follow them on Twitter and "like" their Facebook page!

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  1. I have heard so many amazing things about this book. I'm totally regretting that I didn't request it from Hachette when I had the chance! (They had said it was going to be on NetGalley and I couldn't find it. Sad.) But yes, I will still find a way to own this one and hopefully love it like you did!

  2. Excellent review, Liz!
    As Jen pointed out, I haven't heard much about this title until this week. Thanks for your input!

    -Wendy from A Cupcake and a Latte: YA Reviews

  3. I don't usually read teen pregnancy stories either, but this one sounds really good. I wasn't the biggest fan of 'Sweethearts' but I think I read a lot more serious books than I used to, so I'm looking forward to giving Sara Zarr's books another shot.

  4. Sounds really interesting. Thx for the review!! Sara Zarr sounds like a good author.

  5. I'm thinking this will be my first Sara Zarr book as well! Glad you liked it - that motivates me more to find a copy ASAP. Great review :)

  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Liz! I've been considering this one for a while, but I've been unsure because I tend to stay away from emotional contemp books (or contemp in general, actually) unless there's something in their description that really draws me in. But I like hearing that this one is good... maybe I'll get around to it soon if I have time :)

  7. Thanks for the awesome review. I'm cautiously excited about reading the book, though I don't think I'll like Jill

  8. @Jen - It's too bad that you missed the chance to read it sooner, but I hope you enjoy it when you get your hands on a copy!

    @Wendy- Thank you!

    @Ashley- My sister has Sweethearts, but I've never read it, lol. I think she bought it at first because it had a cute cover... but I can't remember how well she liked it. I hope you give this one a shot!

    @Burgandy Ice- No problem!

    @Tara- Thanks, Tara! I hope you enjoy it as well!

    @Brenna-I hope you get a chance to read it! I haven't read an emotionally-charged contemporary novel for awhile, so it was a nice break from some of the paranormal books I'd read last...

    @Alez- haha, funny that you mention it, but neither of the main girls are too appealing at first. They sort of grow on you as the novel progresses!

  9. A heart warming story of love and family. A must read! I downloaded to my new kindle on a whim, but was pleasantly surprised. Really enjoyed this book!