Monday, December 19, 2011

ARC Review: How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life
Sara Zarr
Young Adult/Contemporary
Little, Brown/October 18, 2011

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?

This is a story of surviving loss and moving on. Jill and her mom Robin are trying to survive the devastating loss of father and husband. Mandy is trying to survive the loss of everything she knows, even if those things and people are not good for her. All three women take an interesting journey to find what the next stage in their lives will hold.

Jill and her mom Robin are coping with the loss of Mac, father and husband, who died unexpectedly. They are well off financially but both still struggle with an emptiness Mac left behind. Robin decides to not only adopt a baby but bring the birth mother home to live them until the baby is born. This doesn't go over well with Jill who thinks it's a crazy idea. It does sound farfetched - a 50-something woman with a seventeen year old deciding to adopt a baby. But Robin, like Jill, is reacting from the death of her husband Mac. I thought Robin was a little too trusting for a woman who is portrayed as a very intelligent business woman. But she is thinking with her emotions when it comes to the adoption.

Robin thinks the baby will bring hope into their lives but Jill thinks it all a big mistake. She was very close to her father and it shows in how she thinks of him and what advice he would give her in different situations. Jill has tried to shut out the world so bringing a very pregnant Mandy into the home is seen by Jill as an invasion. I thought Jill's reactions were genuine given the situation. It's less than a year since her dad died and while she may act like she doesn't want attention, she still needs her mom. So to have her mom focus on this stranger and her unborn child causes Jill to become defensive.

Mandy is an odd character. At times she is comes across as innocent and younger than her years (she's 18, nearly 19). Her life has been sheltered but she's also had her share of abuse. She has a tendency to say what she's thinking, often being too blunt. Her thought process and actions don't always show someone with a sense of how society and social situations work. She wasn't an easy character to relate to.

How to Save a Life is intriguing for it's contrasting look at grief and how people work through that grief. I could easily picture this as a Lifetime movie. The characters are solid but not easy to connect with. The ending didn't come as a surprise, it was fairly obvious how it would end early on. Even with the predictable plot, How to Save a Life turned out to be a satisfying read.

Rating: B


  1. Sounds interesting, but at the same time, not the kind of YA I like to read, so I think I'm going to skip :)

  2. Nath ~ It's not for everyone, certainly something you need to be in the mood for it.

  3. Really interesting plot line. My teen totally goes for this kind of book--along the lines of th emovie Juno perhaps?