Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr



Title: How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pub. Date: 10.18.2011
Genre: Contemporary
Keywords: Adoption, Single Parents, Loss, Family, Relationships
Pages: 341
Description (from Goodreads):
Jill MacSweeney just wants everything to 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. You can’t lose one family member and simply replace him with a new one, and when her mom decides to adopt a baby, that’s exactly what it feels like she’s trying to do. And that’s decidedly not normal. With her world crumbling around her, can Jill come to embrace a new member of the family?

Mandy Kalinowski knows 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, she knows she wants a better life for her baby. But can giving up a child be as easy as it seems? And will she ever be able to find someone to care for her, too?


I’ll be honest: I didn’t immediately love this book. I liked Jill well enough, but I wasn’t sure how to feel about Mandy. She’s… different. But, the more I read, the more I came to care for both of these characters.


I found Jill easy to relate to. I think I would have been just as moody and skeptical if my mother decided to adopt a baby just before I went off to college and directly after my father passed away. Truthfully, I think I would have been moody and skeptical regardless of the circumstances. 


Mandy wasn’t quite so easy to understand at first, but, in retrospect, I think this made the novel better and built a stronger bond between the character and reader. Little by little, Zarr reveals pieces of Mandy’s past and, as the reader begins to fit these experiences together, her actions and thoughts start to make sense. 


I liked how incredibly different Jill and Mandy are. Both have survived horrible things in their lives… and they’ve both dealt with their experiences in entirely different ways. On the outside, Jill appears tough and independent, but, on the inside, she’s falling apart. Mandy may appear naive and soft, but she’s much stronger and determined than one would guess.


I loved getting to know both of these characters. There are wonderful friendships in this novel, a hopeful romance, and a fantastic mother figure, but it was these two young women and their strength that have inspired me to recommend this novel.

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8 thoughts on “Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

  1. I understand what it feels like, having someone forced upon you as a replacement. Sometimes I wonder if I should have – or even could have – dealt with my circumstance better, but I'd like to see how Jill plays it out. I haven't dealt with a surprise and unexpected pregnancy, thank goodness, but I'll see what Mandy has to offer.

  2. Like your comment about how Jill seems strong, but is actually crumbling. I know people who seem stronger than they are. Tough exterior and all. So it makes this novel seem realistic to me. Thanks!

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