Jill MacSweeney wants to go back to the life she had before. But that’s impossible because her father was alive before and now he isn’t. She had friends and a boyfriend before and now she can barely talk to anyone without biting their heads off. She and her mother had Jill’s dad to bridge the gap between them before. Now all Jill has is her mother making the insane decision to adopt a baby after exchanging a few emails with the mother. How can anything be normal with that looming?
Mandy Kalinowski knows she might not be the best mother for her baby. That’s why she was so happy to find Robin–an older woman with a stable life who wants a baby to love. It should be the perfect arrangement. Except Robin’s daughter seems to hate Mandy on sight. And as her due date looms closer and closer, Mandy starts to wonder if making the right decision for her baby might not be as simple as she thought.
As Jill and Mandy get to know each other, everything starts to change. The question is will the changes make things worse or better in How to Save a Life (2011) by Sara Zarr.
How to Save a Life was an interesting read. At the beginning of the novel Jill is so angry and Mandy is trying so hard to manipulate everything to go her way, that it was initially quite hard to connect with either character. I even skimmed to the ending because I was uncertain of if I wanted to finish the book. Still, I persisted and even with that sneak peek at the outcome, this was an interesting read.
Zarr’s writing is eloquent and does a great job bringing Mandy and Jill’s landscapes to life. Unfortunately, Zarr packs so much into the story with Mandy’s complicated past and Jill’s grieving that ultimately both characters feel thinly drawn because so much is happening rather than well-developed because of it.
Watching Jill and Mandy’s transformations throughout the story was interesting if not earth shattering. It was also refreshing to see some present and engaged parents in a YA novel (along with the more expected horrible parents). How To Save a Life does manage to take a potentially predictable book in an unexpected direction with characters that always feel real.
Possible Pairings: Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, I am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten