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How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

How to Save a Life (edition 2012)

by Sara Zarr

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5175419,606 (4.07)21
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
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 54 (next | show all)
Plot: To be honest, I wasn’t really sure about this one. The synopsis felt too 16 & Pregnant to me and I was expecting something along those lines. But that is definitely not what I found. This is a story of two girls, both lost and confused who are searching for something they didn’t even realize they wanted or needed. It was a story about family, how blood relation doesn’t really matter, as long as you are willing to be there for each other. There aren’t any major plot twists, it isn’t action packed and it isn’t even all that unique, but it is still a great book. Only after reading it and sitting down to write this review, did I notice that the ending was totally and completely predictable, but this didn’t take anything away from the novel because it was exactly what I hoped would happen. There was an annoying cliffhanger at the very, very end though, but I say “annoying” only because I really wanted to know what happened next and then, suddenly, the book was over. I just hope this means a sequel might be coming? Who knows...

Characters: This was very strange for me, but I connected with both Jill and Mandy despite how different they were. It was a little odd because I can’t remember the last time I agreed so much with a characters inner thoughts. I even caught myself nodding along as I was reading a few times, thinking: “That is so me. Thank God I’m not the only one”. Jill is moody, angry and bitter which is completely understandable behavior after losing a parent, especially considering the relationship they had. Mandy was a little more difficult to understand. She is very naive, very lost, but very well-intentioned. She is only trying to do what she thinks is best for everyone, even if she has no idea what her future will be once it is all done. The alternating viewpoints offered more of the characters personality through implication rather than outright telling. The fact that the characters were so relatable is probably the main reason why I liked this book so much.

Cover: I like the cover and it does show how lost Mandy is, which is a key part of the story, but it isn’t the only one and I think they could have designed something that tied in with the book better. It is still really cute though.

Overall Impression: This is the first time I am reading a novel by Sara Zarr, but it will definitely not be the last. I hope a sequel is in the works! ( )
  joanab951 | May 21, 2015 |
Beautifully written, especially in terms of characterization and voice. In the hands of a less author I think I would have grown frustrated by several of the characters but Zarr makes me love them in spite of (sometimes even because of) their flaws. This book compelled me to keep reading, wanting not just to know "how it ends" but how these characters will come together (or not) and grow (or not).
  devafagan | Jan 2, 2015 |
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. I saw it a few years ago in a bookstore and thought it looked really good. I added it to the list of books that I should read, and when I saw it in the library a few days ago, I picked it up and took it home. Now, a part of me wished that I had left it on the shelf. It wasn't that it was exceptionally bad, it just wasn't exceptionally good.
My biggest complaint is the characters. I disliked both the main characters quite a lot, actually. I found myself liking the two boys in the story far more than I liked either of the girls. I'm not the kind of person who dislikes a character just because they have flaws, I believe that it makes them more realistic, but these characters had flaws that I just couldn't overlook. I think the author meant for some of Mandy's quirks to be endearing, but I just found them creepy. I felt like at times, Jill was unrealistic. I didn't find either of the characters likable, and while I acknowledge that it isn't a requirement for the main characters to be likable, I believe that they were meant to be liked in this book, and the author failed to make me even tolerate them. Plus, while there was some character development, I felt like there wasn't enough from this kind of book.
I don't know where I stand as far as the plot is concerned. It took a little while for me to get into it, but after maybe fifty to seventy five pages, I did find the plot quite compelling. However, I don't really understand what the purpose of the book was, and I don't feel like the plot really went anywhere. I couldn't identify a real conflict, though I see what might be considered as the climax.
While this book wasn't terrible, it wasn't as good as I thought it would be. Maybe my high expectations made the actual book pale in comparison, but I didn't really find it that good. I wouldn't call it a waste of my time or anything, because I think something can be gained from reading anything, even if it's of poor quality, but it took me longer than normal to finish. It could just be that this book just didn't resonate with me. It's one of those books that I would suggest to my friends, but if they wanted to read it, I wouldn't stop them.
Two out of Five Stars
If you liked this review, you can find more cool stuff like it here: http://themessengerreviews.blogspot.com/2014/07/how-to-save-life.html ( )
  TheMessengerReviews | Nov 23, 2014 |
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.
  humblewomble | Oct 19, 2014 |
What I thought of when I saw the title: The Fray's How to Save A Life.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is an incredibly sad thing because it's the hallmark of neglect, parental and otherwise, sometimes leading to 'excessive familiarity with relative strangers' to fulfil the all-consuming need for love, attention and affection they've never received. Witnessing Mandy forming unhealthy attachments to people she's just met is excruciating. Once you hear her story, you just want to pull her away from her old life and insecurities, give her a hug, take her home and take care of her and her unborn baby.

I felt for each and every one of the characters. They may not be the most likeable in the world but they're real, complicated and going through terrible times. I understood why each acted as they did: why Jill rejected the notion of her mother adopting a baby so soon after her dad died, why Robin (Jill's mother) wanted to do this and why she didn't go through legal channels to do so, and why Mandy lied so she could find a loving home for her baby to grow up in, thereby preventing her from suffering the same childhood she did and growing up to be like her or her mother.

I sympathised with Jill. Struggling with her identity, redefining herself after her dad's death and figuring out what she wants and who she wants to be is difficult enough, but then having to accept this new person into your life who'll provide you with a baby sister, puts on even more pressure to come to terms with her grief, with her future and the need to move on, embrace life and take risks again.

It's a deeply moving and depressing read, so much so that I was desperate for the predictable happily ever after. Thankfully, I got it. I would've been pretty mad if I hadn't. A new family and a new beginning is formed from the wreckage of four lives, bringing me to tears with the emotive subject matters of abuse, grief and fear for the future and the truly deep and realistic observations in the writing, together with fact that four lives, not one or two, are saved, make this a rare and favourite read. ( )
  Cynical_Ames | Sep 23, 2014 |
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I am writing in response to your Love Grows post from Christmas Day.
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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