Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

How to review this book? When I finished it I was almost certain I wouldn't try because I just really really loved it and any description felt like it would be lacking. But alas, when I asked which books you'd be most interested in hearing about this is the one most of you picked.

How to Save a Life is a dual narrative book. It is both Jill's story and Mandy's story and how their stories intersect and what that ends up meaning for them. Jill's father died in a car crash and he was the parent she was closest to. And she was really close to him, and she's still grieving. It upset everything in her life and she hasn't been able to quite get back to normal. And now her mom wants to adopt a baby. It was something she and Jill's father always planned to do and now her mom, Robin, really wants to make it happen. She connects with Mandy via an internet forum and they reach an agreement. Mandy is a little bit different in her requests, she has really special circumstances, but Robin agrees to them. And so Mandy gets on a train and comes to live with Robin and Jill until her baby is born.

Jill does not want this at all, she doesn't want her mom to adopt another baby and she's not ready to have Mandy come live with them. So she's really resistant and prickly and things are tense between her and Robin. Meanwhile, she's still in an on again/off again relationship with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, Dylan, knew her dad and it's just kind of hard for them to let each other go, even though it's pretty clear from the start of the book that's something that needs to happen. And Dylan knows about Mandy and actually really connects with her which increases the tension in their relationship.

Mandy is lying about a lot of things and as those things come up, tension increases. Jill wants to know the truth about Mandy and enlists a friend, this new guy she met, to help. As the truth comes out, everyone is forced to a crisis point where a decision must be made.

This book you's so good. Please please ignore that it sounds like an after school special in description. It's so deep and true and beautiful and heartfelt. The characters feel so freaking real, I don't exactly know how Zarr does it, but Jill especially I felt like I knew so well, she was just so...ugh repetition, but REAL to me. I liked Jill a lot as a character because while she was flawed and sometimes cruel and selfish, she was also really self-aware and in a lot of pain. She pushes away the people who are kind to her, the people she most wants to be close to and she even knows she's doing it and it's wrong but she doesn't know how to stop and that's something I can really relate to. And she works in a bookstore! So of course she's really cool. And I felt so so much for Mandy, her story is totally heartbreaking. For how well Jill knows herself, Mandy doesn't know herself AT ALL. She lives her life by the terrible advice her mother gave her which all pretty much centered around how she could make herself useful and attractive to a man. If a man didn't take notice of her or love her than certainly she had no worth. So she's always thinking about the things her mother said and she's just so hungry to be loved and so desperately lonely and it's just the saddest thing ever and leads her to throw herself at people who don't really care about her. And she had this one night stand with a boy, and he treated her really well and she cared about him and she thinks her baby might have been conceived love. On the best night of her life. And that's why she's keeping it. (the other option of who the father is easy to guess after just a few pages of the book)

But as Mandy sees the family Robin and Jill have she starts to wish for it for herself. She starts to think about her baby and she starts to get (rightfully) angry that she doesn't have the power to choose the life for herself that she really wants. Robin gets to make all the decisions because she has the money and she had all the love.

And Jill starts to fall for this new guy and she feels this thing every time she's around him, like this feeling of home and later on she realizes it's chemistry and I just loved loved loved that description of chemistry so much I had to mention it in my review.

How to Save a Life is this beautiful near perfect story about the pain we carry around inside us and the way that pain can be turned into something else, something life saving and live giving when we come together as people. It's about how we save each other, how there is always hope that we can save each other when we learn how to just reach out. This book is just overflowing with hope--urgent, beautiful, surprising hope waiting to just reach out and grab your heart, wrap its fingers all around it and never let go.

Read also my review of Once was Lost

Rating: 5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: mild profanity
Source of Book: ARC received from publisher
Publisher: Little, Brown


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