BOOK REVIEW: How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr

Date(s) read: November 13 – 17, 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary

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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.

My Thoughts

Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for providing me a copy of this book for review!

I have heard wonderful things about Sara Zarr for a LONG time and I will admit that I never thought about ever actually picking up one of her books. When I saw this one in a publisher’s catalogue, I was drawn in by the snowy cover and knew I had to read it.

Of course, this isn’t to say that we didn’t have our problems along the way.

The thing with books like this is that the whole idea is that the characters are changing. They may come into the story as one thing, but by the end they’re something – or someone – completely different. For me, that meant that for a lot of the book, I didn’t really like some of the characters. But they did grow on me.

What I did love from the first instant was the mystery of the premise. The fact that there had to be something up with either the adoption, or Mandy herself, or maybe even with Jill, or maybe the WHOLE situation itself, had me hooked. I had to know what happened.

I really liked the different voices in this book, how the story is told from the point of view of Jill and Mandy in alternating chapters. I did like Jill from the beginning, but it took me a long time to really get into Mandy’s character.

This was an extremely touching story and I found myself completely moved by the end of the book. It’s one of those stories that will stick with me for a long time.


© 2012, Reading In Winter. All rights reserved.


21 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr

  1. I’ve been wanting to read a Sara Zarr book for a while now and this sound of How To Save A Life definitely appeals to me. With changing POV varying each chapter, it’s a either a hit or miss so I hope I like both voices, even if it takes a little while to warm to them like you did. Also, yay for a bit of mystery! That aspect of the novel definitely intrigues me. Great review, Kristilyn!

  2. You’re right! I loved this book so much but I HATED the characters in the beginning and didn’t think I would like it. I’m glad I stuck it out (partly because I had read another of Zarr’s books and really enjoyed it) because this ended up being a favorite of last year. It’s a special book for sure. Great review, Kristilyn.

  3. I actually like alternating POVs but I never would have guessed there was a “mystery” or something up with the adoption. I’m glad I read your review b/c I would have walked right by this otherwise!! I’ll have to check out Zarr’s stuff!! Thanks!!!!

  4. I think I know what you mean about drastically changing characters. It doesn’t always work out well for me either because it usually means that the character in question might be pretty unlikeable for a fair portion of the book and it can be hard to enjoy the story when you don’t like the characters. But I find that I do really love it when authors are able to do these very dynamic characters WELL – the change is always very satisfying for me when that is the case. I think it takes a lot of talent on the author’s part for it to be convincing though! I have yet to read anything by Sara Zarr, myself.

    • Exactly! I always find myself forcing my way through the book just HOPING that the character changes. The funny thing is that I just finished a book where I hated one character through the majority of the book. The change in her character was a little convincing, but not totally. You’re definitely right — it has to be done WELL.

  5. Pingback: Clock Rewinders on a Book Binge (17) | Reading In Winter

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