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How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
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How to Save a Life (edition 2012)

by Sara Zarr

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5646117,647 (4.03)21
Member:veg-chick
Title:How to Save a Life
Authors:Sara Zarr
Info:Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:families, grief, loss, adoption, teen pregnancy

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How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

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Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
I honestly don't know why but that book didn't realy get to me... I like a lot of books and maybe if mandy wouldn't be so annoying it would be a different thing. maybe I will read it again and give it another shot. we will see ( )
  Sandra_Berglund | Mar 10, 2016 |
It's a jagged thing in my throat, how much I miss her.

This is a sweet, wistful little book, that is completely implausible in concept, but rather deftly written. The basic plot is that Jill's mum takes in a young girl who is pregnant as she (the mum) is going to adopt the baby when it is born, at which point the girl is free to get on with her life. It is pretty much obvious from the beginning that Jill's mum is going to end up adopting the teenager and have them all live together like one big extremely weird happy family.

I felt like everyone was drawn in a bit of a caricature. Jill is officially Not Coping with her dad's death, Mandy (pregnant chick) is super naïve and annoying, Jill's boyfriend is clearly getting less into their relationship, and Jill is clearly falling in love with this other dude. It's all pretty much set out at the start and everyone's issues are resolved in the ways that you would expect in your standard young adult plot. Everyone apart from Mandy is very nice and middle class and utterly respectable.

So why did I enjoy this? I don't know. Having lost my dad at a relatively young age, I'm always interested to find narratives that deal with this kind of sudden death in a realistic setting. I feel that this book did a reasonably competent job of it, though it stuck pretty rigidly to that idea that those grieving will find it difficult to let others in – until it all comes pouring out in one burst, and things start to get better, and that there is a pressure to “hold it together”. This can be true, and often is, and I certainly relate to some of it, but I feel like all too often grief is treated as a monolith, as a fixed object that reduces over time. Instead, it's mostly chaotic, or it was for me. I was largely fine, if extremely teary, after the event. It's only the months and years afterwards that give rise to what grief is, I believe for the majority of people – a shapeshifting monster of a thing that reappears when you least expect it and colours your entire perspective. I'm still grieving, now. My grief was and is anger and pain and misery and depression and anxiety – it was all of these things, differently, sometimes separately and sometimes simultaneously. It was and is not always visible and it doesn't manifest in the ways you would expect. All of this is okay. The number one thing you can expect on the death of a parent is that you are probably not going to be okay. As time goes on, what that means will change and dissipate, but the fundamental thing is that it cannot be undone and the grief does not leave. It just changes with you.

Anyway, to get back to the original point, I feel like this area is touched upon, but for the most part, Jill's grief is a bit of a monolith and I couldn't really engage with it. In the same way, Mandy's nasty background was a bit of a crayon drawing of a nasty background and she is the obvious result of it. The depth was somewhat missing. However, the writing was pretty exemplary, and I feel that's what really holds this story together. It's not reinventing the wheel – not even the YA wheel – but Zarr certainly knows how to put a sentence together and have you grasp the full meaning of it. It's not the just the words she does use, but the words that she pointedly doesn't use, that impress the nature of the characters on to you. And that's no mean feat. I'd definitely read something else by this author despite my slight misgivings about this book. I give How to Save a Life seven out of ten.
  hoegbottom | Jan 30, 2016 |
It's a jagged thing in my throat, how much I miss her.

This is a sweet, wistful little book, that is completely implausible in concept, but rather deftly written. The basic plot is that Jill's mum takes in a young girl who is pregnant as she (the mum) is going to adopt the baby when it is born, at which point the girl is free to get on with her life. It is pretty much obvious from the beginning that Jill's mum is going to end up adopting the teenager and have them all live together like one big extremely weird happy family.

I felt like everyone was drawn in a bit of a caricature. Jill is officially Not Coping with her dad's death, Mandy (pregnant chick) is super naïve and annoying, Jill's boyfriend is clearly getting less into their relationship, and Jill is clearly falling in love with this other dude. It's all pretty much set out at the start and everyone's issues are resolved in the ways that you would expect in your standard young adult plot. Everyone apart from Mandy is very nice and middle class and utterly respectable.

So why did I enjoy this? I don't know. Having lost my dad at a relatively young age, I'm always interested to find narratives that deal with this kind of sudden death in a realistic setting. I feel that this book did a reasonably competent job of it, though it stuck pretty rigidly to that idea that those grieving will find it difficult to let others in – until it all comes pouring out in one burst, and things start to get better, and that there is a pressure to “hold it together”. This can be true, and often is, and I certainly relate to some of it, but I feel like all too often grief is treated as a monolith, as a fixed object that reduces over time. Instead, it's mostly chaotic, or it was for me. I was largely fine, if extremely teary, after the event. It's only the months and years afterwards that give rise to what grief is, I believe for the majority of people – a shapeshifting monster of a thing that reappears when you least expect it and colours your entire perspective. I'm still grieving, now. My grief was and is anger and pain and misery and depression and anxiety – it was all of these things, differently, sometimes separately and sometimes simultaneously. It was and is not always visible and it doesn't manifest in the ways you would expect. All of this is okay. The number one thing you can expect on the death of a parent is that you are probably not going to be okay. As time goes on, what that means will change and dissipate, but the fundamental thing is that it cannot be undone and the grief does not leave. It just changes with you.

Anyway, to get back to the original point, I feel like this area is touched upon, but for the most part, Jill's grief is a bit of a monolith and I couldn't really engage with it. In the same way, Mandy's nasty background was a bit of a crayon drawing of a nasty background and she is the obvious result of it. The depth was somewhat missing. However, the writing was pretty exemplary, and I feel that's what really holds this story together. It's not reinventing the wheel – not even the YA wheel – but Zarr certainly knows how to put a sentence together and have you grasp the full meaning of it. It's not the just the words she does use, but the words that she pointedly doesn't use, that impress the nature of the characters on to you. And that's no mean feat. I'd definitely read something else by this author despite my slight misgivings about this book. I give How to Save a Life seven out of ten.
  hoegbottom | Jan 30, 2016 |
Listened to this audiobook and highly recommend it for the great vocal expressiveness of both actors. It almost felt as if these women were just talking about the goings-on in their admittedly complicated lives, rather than acting out a fictional storyline.

Sara Zarr has created a great cast of unique, believable characters with depth and nuance. She's given them specific backstories and some shared history and grounded the realistic setting in a comfortable suburban Denver neighborhood. Even though I had early doubts to the plausibility of the plot, I was totally invested by the end of the audiobook. A marvelous tale of loss and love and learning to live anew. ( )
  lillibrary | Jan 23, 2016 |
It took some time before I warmed to either Mandy or Jill. Both were irritating in their own way, but I liked how the chapters alternated between their two points of view. My favourite characters were the boys, Dylan and Ravi. They were compassionate and forgiving, unlike the girls. Dealing with issues such as teenage pregnancy, adoption, the meaning of family, grief and trust, this book will be enjoyed by those who enjoy realistic fiction. ( )
  HeatherLINC | Jan 22, 2016 |
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I am writing in response to your Love Grows post from Christmas Day.
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I have no concrete plans for seeing the world and don't know how I'd come up with them without his advice, and when I picture myself moving out, it doesn't feel like a bold adventure. It feels like running away. Because all I can see is the part where I leave, not the part where I arrive.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316036064, Hardcover)


Author One-on-One: Jenny Han Interviews Sara Zarr
Jenny Han

Author Jenny Han recently sat down with Sara Zarr to discuss her latest novel, How to Save a Life.

Jenny Han: In my humble opinion, this is the best book you’ve written thus far. I loved it. I know we authors don’t like to play favorites with our book babies, but do you feel that way, too?

Sara Zarr: Thanks, Jenny! I have to admit‚ I do have extra-warm feelings for this book. Some of that is because the writing of it felt so good, relative to the experience of writing my other books. Still hard work, certainly, but enjoyable hard work. I don’t have to tell you that not every book feels that way. Also, I had a very definite sense while writing it that I was undergoing some kind of change and growth as a writer, and that felt good. I’m proud of it as a work, and it will also always symbolize, to me, that period of exciting change and growth.

Han: Did you do any kind of research on adoption?

Zarr: I did. I poked around adoption websites and message boards, and I had to look up some information on laws in the states where the story takes place. The specific circumstances under which Jill’s mom and Mandy find each other has a whiff of “gray market” about it, which didn’t lend itself to research. So I had to imagine and assume it would be entirely possible, as I know people will go to great lengths and push boundaries in the process of creating a family.

Han: Did you plan all along to tell the story from both Mandy’s and Jill’s perspectives?

Sara Zarr

Zarr: When I first started the book, it was Jill’s story. But as soon as I finished Jill’s first chapter, in which she and her mother are waiting for the train that’s bringing Mandy to them, I knew that I wanted to be on that train, too. I wanted to know what brought Mandy to that moment of leaving home, and what she’d think of her new life in Denver and of Jill.

Han: Mandy moved me very much. There is an innocence to her, but also a sharpness, a manipulativeness. She reminded me of an unwanted puppy that’s thrown into a lake but claws its way back to the surface. Where did you get your inspiration for Mandy?

Zarr: That’s a great description and metaphor for Mandy. She came to me slowly. I know this sounds like one of those weirdo writer things—I just sort of got on the train with her and watched. It took me quite a bit longer to figure her out than it took me to know Jill. At first Mandy was more manipulative, less innocent. I saw her as a type, or as a character. Which, as you know, is not the best way to approach the people we’re creating, but sometimes that’s where you have to start. As her story came to me in pieces, I could see how her experience had made her both strong and vulnerable, and that anything she did that seemed manipulative was simply out of this will to survive that she’d been honing since birth.

Han: Is there one character you related to most deeply?

Zarr: I think anyone who knows me well will recognize where a lot of Jill’s personality comes from. Jill is a lot like me when—well, I hate to say “when I’m at my worst,” because I don’t think that’s fair to Jill. Let’s just say that I understand Jill and why she sometimes treats people who care about her in the shabby way that she does. That said, I also deeply felt Mandy’s longing for safety, for home, for some kind of faith that things are going to be okay. Both Mandy and Jill want those things. Probably everyone does.

Han: What's next for you after this?

Zarr: I’m working on a new novel right now. All I can say is that it’s my usual—contemporary realism—and that the process is challenging me in every possible way. I hope in a year to be able to say that I met those challenges successfully!

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:16 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Told from their own viewpoints, seventeen-year-old Jill, in grief over the loss of her father, and Mandy, nearly nineteen, are thrown together when Jill's mother agrees to adopt Mandy's unborn child but nothing turns out as they had anticipated.

(summary from another edition)

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