From the book jacket: 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.
Lo says: I could probably write a review for this that just says, “You guys, you have to read this. Please please read this.” And you would, and would agree with me that this book is amazing, and that Sara Zarr should be crowned Queen of All of the Things.
Alas, you are not so lucky – because I am a wordy betch, and I really like to get my fangirl on. If I was a Cullen, my superpower would be Epic Fangirling. Also: HOW AWESOME WOULD I LOOK IN THE CALIFORNIA SUNSHINE.
But this is about Sara Zarr and her aforementioned Amazingness and how I want to meet her for coffee and watch her write, and I don’t care how creepy that sounds. How to Save a Life is so so so good. It’s hug-to-your-chest good. It’s goshDARNIT-how-can-she-write-two-different-voices-so-well good. It’s I-wonder-if-she’d-let-me-be-her-dogwalker good. And then I wonder, Does Sara Zarr have a dog? If not, would it be weird if I gave her a puppy?
Moving on. How to Save a Life has been all over my Twitter feed since it was released, and everyone loves it, and The World said OMG LO YOU HAVE TO READ IT and yet, I didn’t right away. Even though The World can be very loud and I have sensitive ears. I thought a lot about this today, and here’s my conclusion (it will surprise none of you): I kind of like my familiar supernatural / paranormal / dystopian books. I like them in part maybe because there’s something about contemporary YA that feels so CLOSE? Like, if I read it and like it, maybe I’ll have to think about how wild and hard and wonderful and scary REAL life is? And I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but it’s true: Sara Zarr doesn’t write “easy” stories.
BUT AMAZINGLY (and here’s where the Being Queen comes in), you don’t feel down and sad the entire time you’re reading this admittedly hard story. Because although it’s hard, it’s also uplifting and funny and yes, a little bit swoony (Ravi and Dylan. Unf). And the other thing I love is that it’s wonderfully small. It’s a tiny peek into these lives, letting you get to know each of these characters and their limitations and the ways they are shockingly strong and fantastic. The reader can relate to each of them because they are so universal.
And, oh, the Voice. That elusive VOICE in writing. Did you know it’s told in alternating POV? Jill and Mandy were SO PERFECT and SO DIFFERENT. At one point I looked down at the page number – because I felt like I already knew them so well – and you know what page I was on? DO YOU? THIRTY. As in 3-0. As in OMG SARA ZARR NEEDS A CROWN. At first Mandy made me really cringey, because I’ve known people like her who just don’t have good boundaries, and aren’t very worldly and you just kind of EEP-FACE when they do things because there’s so little finesse. But because it’s from Mandy’s POV, you understand where she’s coming from when she tells Jill that her hair color used to be better and maybe she should go back to it. Mandy had such a different upbringing than me but I GET HER, and her character grew on me almost as if my mom was knitting a sweater onto my body (which initially sounded really cozy and kind of gradual and now just sounds a little awkward-fumblehands and claustrophobic. Hold that thought, I’ll work on the metaphor).
And then, there’s Jill, who really should have more finesse and has zero because she’s lost her Dad and she has a lot of anger and sadness, but her disorganized emotional reaction to everything just felt so REAL to me. She was so fragile, and her hair and clothes and pierced eyebrow and ALL OF IT was just so perfect because nothing about her is as tough as that. AND, the thing I love most about Jill is something I can’t say in a review without being too spoilery.
There’s no one moment I can tell you is BUILT UP TO and WHEN YOU GET HERE PLEASE EMAIL ME YOUR FLAILS because it isn’t that kind of book. It’s a story, and it’s the kind that crawls between your ribs and warms you up and sometimes pokes you, but definitely sticks with you for so long, hopefully forever.
This one gets:
I Will Reswoon Soon
Straight to the Favorites Pile
I love this book.
Sara, are you more of a chocolate lab person, or, say, daschund?
Come leave Sara some love and be entered to win a signed copy ordered from King’s English bookstore in Salt Lake City!
About the author: Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of four novels for young adults: Story of a Girl (National Book Award Finalist), Sweethearts (Cybil Award Finalist), Once Was Lost (a Kirkus Best Book of 2009, Utah Book Award winner, INSPY winner) and How to Save a Life (Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and L.A. Public Library Best Book of 2011, ALA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012). Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Image, Hunger Mountain online, and Response. She’s also a regular contributor to Image‘s Good Letters blog on faith, life, and culture. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, and online at www.sarazarr.com.