Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

How to Save a LifeHow to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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?

Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about what it means to be a family and the many roads we can take to become one.

My take: This was a surprisingly satisfying read. Zarr contrasts Mandy who, in my mind, is a Harry Potter Luna only with big hair and an enormous pregnant belly, and Jill, a girl grieving over the death of her father within the last year but burying it and lashing out at everyone she loves.

Every character in the book was one the reader could love and relate. I mean the ones in the Denver area, including Mandy, a street smart yet optimistic and sweet survivor. Mandy who has only broken promises and a crappy mother who openly admitted she was a mistake, decides to place her baby for adoption with Robin, Jill's mother. Robin is a do-it-all kind of a woman who faces her grief by filling it with more people to love. Maybe some codependency issues but overall, her life and her heart has room for growth and continuation of what she's already been doing.

Then we have Jill, the ungrateful teenage rebel who is really not so bad or misunderstood as she believes she is. Like Mandy, Jill lacks a father. Unlike Mandy, Jill had a father for 17 years who loved her like crazy. Like Mandy, Jill has a mother. Unlike Mandy, Jill has a mother who loves Jill like crazy.

Both girls are trying to navigate their new circumstances and define who they are and who they will become. The catalyst for this definition is the impending birth of Mandy's baby. Mandy wants a better life for her child. One filled with love. One not filled with a mother's latest flavor of the month. She also wants a choice in her life. She wants to leave the past behind and know who she is. Jill is seeking for the old Jill that she thinks was a good person. She wants to be a person that is not so sad or angry. She wants to figure out who Jill really is.

Excellent writing and contrast. Relatable characters.


Jan von Harz said...

I have had my eye on this one for a while and love that the writing and characters work so well. Great review!

Kim said...

I think I'd like this one...I'll have to check my library.