Friday, 31 August 2012
Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Released: September 1st, 2012
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 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 falls 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.
How to Save a Life Is the third of Sara Zarr's books I've read, and it's by far the best. I've found her books to be a bit hit and miss (didn't like Story of a Girl, loved Sweethearts), but for some reason I knew I'd like this one as soon as I heard about it. I had a hard time getting it from the US so was very glad to hear that Usborne had bought the UK rights. Well done to whoever is responsible for that - this book is BRILLIANT.
How to Save a Life is about many things: life, love, grief, acceptance, forgiveness. It's raw and realistic in a way that made me really feel like I knew the characters, almost like they were my real life friends. I felt sad for them when they cried, and happy for them when a spark of hope showed up in their lives. Not every book I read has that effect on me, which is testament to just how well written How to Save a Life is.
This book is primarily about an adoption. Robin, a fifty-something widow, meets eighteen-year-old Mandy on the Internet, and they arrange an open adoption for Mandy's child, without the input of lawyers or social workers. It's all done on Mandy's terms, which raises a red flag for Robin's daughter Jill. Mandy moves into Robin's house as her due date nears, and it's not long before Shea finally finding out what it's like to have a home and a family who actually care. What follows is a journey of trust and self-discovery, and it's beautifully written.
Every character in this book has captured my heart. I like Robin for her grim determination to carry on living. I like Mandy because of her devotion to giving her child the best life possible. I like Dylan and Ravi because they both do their best to help Jill any way they can. And that just leaves Jill. I feel for her and what she's going through after losing my dad. I thankfully haven't experienced that myself, but I know what it's like to fear the loss of a parent. It's a crippling fear that makes everything come to a standstill, and that alone was more than enough for me. So for Jill to carry on and get up every morning is something I can relate to. Her bravery is her best quality, and Zarr writes her as if she too knows what it's like to be in that headspace.
How to Save a Life is the best contemporary novel I've read this year. It's the kind of book that makes me glad to be a reader. I'm already thinking about reading it again, an I just might do it. There's layer upon layer of character development to peel back and explore, and I'm sure I must have missed something in my rush to get to the end and find out the conclusion to my new friends' stories.
There isn't much left for me to say except read it. Just read it and bask in the glow of pitch-perfect writing and look forward to an inspiring collection of people you can get to know. I really don't think you'll regret it.