Monday, 4 March 2013

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Title: How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Released: October 18th 2011
Pages: 368 (Paperback)
Buy: Amazon UK / Amazon US

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.

So my school library is taking part in a reading challenge, where the local Waterstones' has given us about 10 different books for some students to read and review - so naturally my name went on the list as soon as I saw it! Looking through the different novels available, I was spoiled for choice, and honestly had no clue what to choose! But then this caught my eye, and I knew I had to read it.

How to Save a Life is told from two point of views - Jill, an only child who is dealing very badly with her father's death, and Mandy, a pregnant teen who has run away from her mother and her abusive boyfriend. Mandy doesn't want her baby, but Robin, Jill's mother, does - so Mandy goes to stay with the pair throughout the rest of the pregnancy, unfamiliar with Robin's kindness and Jill's apparent hatred. However, Jill is battling her own demons, and fears that Robin's sudden want of this baby is just a rebound after her dad's death.

It's an interesting topic, teen pregnancy and dealing with the death of a loved one - excuse me for the deepish train of thought, but the theme is kind of life and death, isn't it? The loss then birth of a loved one, and I think it's interesting how Zarr has tied the two the two together, since I don't believe I have ever come across a novel like this before (I may have, but I have the memory of a goldfish, so excuse me if I'm wrong). I think the theme of life and death was also reinforced by the the two different perspectives, as each character was mostly focused on one or the other, so the two topics were both fully explored.

The characterization was good, and I definitely got the feeling that Jill and Mandy were two separate characters. However, despite the descriptions, I didn't manage to ever fully form an image of what either of them looked like in my head. Jill was described as very gothic and dark, but I just didn't see her as that. Mandy was also supposed to be small, with big blonde hair - I imagined her as more tall and elegant, with straight blonde hair - I don't know why, I just did. I also couldn't visualize Dylan or Ravi, or even Robin come to think of it. So I suppose in that respect it wasn't well written, because one of the jobs the author must do is to draw the reader into the novel, maybe even so much so that the reader feels as if they are watching the story unfold right before their eyes. I didn't get that feeling, so I think if that had been improved, I would have liked it more.

Despite my complaints, I actually didn't find the plot at all predictable! Okay, slight over-exaggeration  I suspected certain parts right from the word go, but the biggest shocker of the novel was a complete surprise! I didn't see it coming, right until the very end, and I have to admit that I thought it was one of the best twists I have ever witnessed!

Overall, I did enjoy this novel and read it quite quickly, but it wasn't amazing - I mean, I wouldn't go out and buy myself my own copy, nor seek out any other of Zarr's novels. However, if you do like contemporary fiction that is realistic but slightly softened, then this may well be right up your street.
Rating: 3/5


  1. I have seen this out and about for a while now, I am glad you enjoyed it even tough you had a few problems with it :)

    I wish my local Waterstones would do that challenge, I would want all of the review books :P

    Great review :) xxx

    1. Thank you! I'm so happy about it - I love that feeling when you find out you have a chance to review a book that you have wanted for ages!