Title: How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
On the Shelves: Young Adult, Contemporary
“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. And 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” (Goodreads 2013)
Zarr’s How to Save a Life is different from the young adult fiction I usually read, and while it wasn’t the best book I’ve read all year, I couldn’t bring myself to stop reading because I became quite attached to the characters, I had to know what happened to them all in the end- which is something I was not expecting to happen upon picking up this book. The story begins with Jill begrudgingly expecting a new arrival;, but not in the typical fashion. After her dad passed away, her mum has decided it’s a smart idea to adopt a baby- even though, personally, I think this is incredibly selfish of Jill’s mum, to outright ignore Jill’s opinion on a new addition to the family. Anyway, the new arrival isn’t quite ready yet, so instead of just a newborn baby, Jill and her mother are actually taking in the surrogate mother, a young girl, roughly around the same age as Jill.
With each chapter told in either Mandy or Jill’s perspective, we begin to see the history of the characters and how their personal situations affect the choices they have made and will continue to make. The only annoying thing for me regarding these two characters was how scared Mandy was all the time. While it was understandable and you could empathise why she was so scared towards the end of the book, I couldn’t get over that it would’ve made more sense to just talk to Jill and her mum about her concerns and not lie and sneak around so much, making everything so much worse when the cat eventually got out of the bag- however, that wouldn’t have made for a very good story I suppose.
What I would’ve liked to have seen in this book, would’ve been chapters from Jill’s mum’s point of view, so we could know about her thoughts and decisions and emotions surrounding the entire situations, since she was also one of the main three characters in the story. I felt that this would have rounded off the book nicely, but it did work okay with just Mandy and Jill’s perspectives.
The story has a slight twist at the end, which I thought was a lovely way of rounding things off and finding a more responsible way of handling the situation. But I won’t go into that too much as this is a spoiler free review.
I recommend this book to those who enjoy contemporary young adult novels, and I gave it 3/5 stars.