How to Save a Life

Title: How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
Pages: 341
Genre: fiction, YA, contemporary
Series? No
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (2012)
Rating: 5/6 – I loved it!

Synopsis from cover: This is what made me want to cry. Knowing no one really cares if you stay or if you go or if you freeze to death in a train station parking lot or if you simply disappear. I’ve been knowing that a long time.

Jill MacSweeney just wishes everything could 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. When her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she’s somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.

Mandy Kalinowski understands 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, one thing she’s sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It’s harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?

As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy – or as difficult – as it seems.

My Initial Thoughts/Rambling: This book just affirms every reason why I periodically take a break from fantasy and dystopia (my favorite genres) to read contemporary fiction. There’s something about books like this that make you stop and think, and appreciate a quieter beauty without the need for epic battles and magic wands. Plus, they give me hope that you can find magic and hope even in the real world, just by being human. Possible Spoilers Ahead.

What did I think about the characters? First, we have Jill. Cynical, sarcastic, cold, and abrasive. Everything about her just screams “don’t touch me” – from her blue hair to her eyebrow piercing. But she’s so much more than that. Still reeling from the loss of her dad – her best friend and the only person who truly understood her – Jill pulls away from everything and everyone. She puts on this harsh front, but in reality she’s just lost, lonely, and grieving. Neither side of her was overly done, and I could believe the conflict inside her as she tried to come outside her shell.

And then we have Mandy. My baby Mandy. I just wanted to scoop her up and take her away from everything. About halfway through the book, my chest ached because I hurt so much for her. Unwanted and unloved, she ran away from her mom and mom’s boyfriend – while eight months pregnant. The book covers the last six weeks of her pregnancy, and she has to come to terms with everything that happened to bring her to that place, and also how she wanted to move forward. She was 100% believable as she tried to figure out what she wanted to do with herself, and if she truly wanted to give her baby up for adoption.

And then the boys: Dylan and Ravi. Both are Jill’s love interests, but the romance only made up about 5% of the story. They were less about the romance, and more about how each boy helped Jill as she tried to move on from her father’s death, and start her life again. Plus, no insta-love! It was all organic and very realistic.

And the concept and plot? Concept was good. Both girls had their own journey to walk towards healing, but along the way they were thrown together and had to overcome their differences to, in a small way, save each other. 

The plot was great! Well paced, and never forced or gimmicky. I’m not 100% in love with the ending, but to be honest I’m not sure if I would have been happy any other way. *Here’s the spoiler: highlight if you want to see it* I just felt that Mandy didn’t need to validate herself by meeting Christopher (the baby’s father). I wanted so much for her to find her own independence, and it was kind of like she needed his approval to move on in life. *End spoiler* But other than that, I loved the whole thing. 

What about the writing style? Flawless! Especially with the characters. I could have been able to tell you which character was speaking, without the chapter headers or different fonts used for Jill and Mandy – that’s how distinct and developed these characters were. Jill was blunt, straightforward, and a bit more articulate. Mandy was like a small, timid child, and it came through in every word she thought or said. Incredible writing!

Anything else you’d like to add? I’ll definitely be reading more from Zarr! Oh, and I’m sure you can all guess which song was playing in my head on repeat as I read the book, and am now singing while I write this review. Here you go:

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