How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Book: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October 18, 2011

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Format/pages: eGalley provided by NetGalley, available in Hardcover (341 pages)

Rating: 5 / 5 Stars

More Reviews: Goodreads

Buy the Book: Amazon

How to Save a Life is the first book I’ve read by acclaimed author Sara Zarr, and it won’t be my last.  I went into this book knowing very little about it, only that it’s contemporary with a snowy, grey cover and it’s title is the same as that song by The Fray. This well written character-driven book is about love, relationships and family dynamics, grieving and choices, and is an emotional and satisfying read.

In How to Save a Life, two girls experiencing life challenges tell the story from dual perspectives. Jill MacSweeney has recently lost her adored father, and has since withdrawn from those closest to her. Her mother decides to adopt a baby and Jill can’t get on board with the idea. Mandy Kalinowski grew up in a difficult environment with a mother who didn’t want her. Now that she’s pregnant herself, she wants a better life for her child and thinks she’s found it with Jill’s mother.

The characters really made this book for me. Although I found both Jill and Mandy unlikeable at the beginning, as I got to know more about them I felt a connection with both of them. Jill comes off as harsh to her family, friends and Mandy, though it’s understandable as she is suffering greatly from her father’s death. Mandy has never had a normal family life, and her behavior is a bit off as she adjusts to life with the MacSweeney’s. Each of them is so complex and heartbreaking, and I understood their motivation even though they made me cringe at times with their behavior and decision-making.  Their voices are very distinct and I appreciated hearing both of their points of view in the story.

The supporting characters are well done and add a nice flavor to the story. Jill’s mother is a wonderful character, and a good, rare example of a realistic behaving parent in young adult books. Her compassion and heart made her one of my favorite characters. Jill’s boyfriend Dylan and her high school friend / coworker Ravi also play big parts and become a support system for Jill as well as Mandy. Jill has a part-time job at a bookstore and I also liked seeing some of the workplace dynamics in the book.

This book should appeal to those drawn to character-driven, contemporary books. The plot is interesting also and covers some heavy topics such as grieving, abuse, and pregnancy, and making difficult decisions, but it succeeds most as a realistic character study of families and relationships. A stellar and touching read.


4 thoughts on “How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

  1. reutreads says:

    I have this out from the library right now. I’ll fast track it 🙂

  2. Lucy says:

    Hope you like it too, Reut. I look forward to your review.

  3. This sounds good! I just might have to go pick up an ARC from the bookstore.

  4. […] reviews of Liesl & Po and How to Save a Life could use a little […]

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