Customer Reviews: How to Save a Life
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on September 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Well, yeah -- it's a little embarrassing. Writing a positive review for a book about a pregnant teen, I mean. It's a first for me, and the rap is that "PT" books are overwrought... melodramatic... maudlin... corny. But somehow Zarr pulls it off. Giving it some thought, I realize the book's genius is in its construction and its characterization. In HOW TO SAVE A LIFE, Zarr uses the alternating chapter/ alternating point of view technique. On the one hand we have the pregnant girl, Mandy. On the other, we have the chief combatant in the family Mandy is joining, Jill. Both are curious characters and (blessed be!) neither exactly warms the heart of the reader. Not at first, anyway. And therein lies one of its strengths. Both characters have murky corners to their souls and neither is one you'd call a close friend. Making these girls gray instead of black and white, good and bad, does wonders for the novel's possibilities. It keeps you reading.

The premise? It's a bit weak. Jill's dad has died in a car accident and her mom has decided to adopt. What's odd is that she doesn't just adopt a baby after it is born, she invites the teenaged mother-to-be (Mandy) to her home for the final weeks of pregnancy. Is that done? If so, it's news to me. OK. So once we cross this suspension bridge of disbelief, we're ready to get caught up in the back and forth between a naive yet hardened Mandy, the product of a lower class upbringing, and snarky, yet self-loathing Jill, the daughter of privilege who is experiencing pain (Dad's death) and confusion for the first time in her heretofore cushy life. Watching the two girls circle each other, with Jill's mom as the beleaguered character in the middle, is, well, fun. And interesting because the characters are. Also, there's a bit of suspense as Mandy's due date approaches. What exactly will this unpredictable kid (who is about to have a kid) do?

So that's it. Confession over. Kudos to Zarr. She got me to admit something I thought I never would. A story of teenage pregnancy can actually deliver (if you'll pardon the pun). Girls will love it. Hopefully, too, they'll learn from it. Little babies make can make for big headaches.
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VINE VOICEon October 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Jill is a high school student trying to cope with the loss of her Dad. He died eleven months ago and everyday life is still hard for her. She has lost all her friends except for Dylan her on again off again boyfriend and she doesn't understand why he is even still with her. Jill pushed everyone away including her Mom. When her Mom decides to adopt a baby without any lawyers or paperwork Jill knows this is just her moms way of coping and she is furious. How does bringing a new life into their home erase her Father? Many many fights follow her moms decision and Jill finds that she may not be able to cope after all.
Mandy is the girl who has decided to give up her baby for adoption. She has grown up in less than perfect conditions and knows that the only way for her to survive is leave her mom and her moms abusing boyfriend before the baby comes. She seeks help in the only way she knows how and stumbles across Robin, Jills mom. Together they figure out a way for Mandy to live with them before the baby comes without Mandy letting Robin know too much about her situation. So the story begins and we get to witness what happens between Jill, Robin, and Mandy which is emotional to say the least. The events these women have gone through are very tough and heartbreaking. I found myself hoping for the pretty happy ever after tied in a bow and while things ended a little differently than I thought they would I am happy with the direction that the author decided to go.
This is my first Sara Zarr book and I have been told numerous times that she is amazing. While I can't fault her writing as it was absolutely amazing I had a very hard time connecting with the characters. The story was there I just honestly could not stand Jill. I understand why she was the way she was but I think she got away with a few things that she needed to own up to. Mandy also kind of had everything picked up for her and basically hit the jackpot. I am not saying that she didn't deserve it but this book is not very realistic. I will most definitely read more from Zarr because I think my issues with this book are just that my issues. Sara Zarr has a talent for writing and I can appreciate where she wanted the story to go.
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on October 11, 2011
How to Save a Life is an emotional, character driven novel, that I found myself very much enjoying.
The two main characters, Jill and Mandy are very different, from their backgrounds, their views on life, and their attitudes toward life. This book smashes them together under the weirdest of circumstances, and I slowly learned more about them and why they act the way they do. Ms. Zarr did a wonderful job making their voices distinct, and unlike some books with dual perspective, I had no problems switching from one to another and keeping the characters individual.
I could identify pieces of myself in both characters, but I didn't fully relate with one or the other. Meaning that I didn't understand some of their trains of thought like I might if I just fully connected/related with one character. (Reading this it sounds like a negative thing, but its not... none of it is in the writing or characterization, I think that Ms. Zarr did a terrific job, I'm just trying to convey that I'm different from the characters--hope that makes sense.) I admire the strength in Mandy, and the self-realization and the courage in Jill--even if it's a very hard road for her and those around her as she comes back into herself.
This is a very neat take on teen pregnancy, adoption, and even has an interesting love triangle twist. I was very surprised at how some things turned out, happy at others, even if I did expect it, and left wanting to know more about the characters and what happens next even after the last page... And I say that in a good way, I was attached to them, and did not want to let them go! I think that the plot lines were well tied up and I was satisfied with the ending, I just wanted to know more if that makes sense.
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on August 4, 2016
This book was awesome in so many ways. I know I say this a lot. The cover and the title caught my attention a while back. I forgot about this book, but somehow came back to it not long ago. I'm so glad I read it.
The way Jill deals with her loss, by being angry, cynical and by pushing everybody away is pretty much how I felt about my own. Putting holes in my body, dressing in black, using make up, dark nails, angry stares. But always showing that I'm not tough to the core, never been never will.
And Mandy, so innocent and naive, but so damaged in her own way. It's easy to not trust everything that has been given to her just by reading the things she's been through.
These characters are so beautifully damaged it's so easy to be on the same page with them, watching as they think they're strong, as they fall apart, and as they put themselves together.
I was scared Sara would make me hate Dylan, because from the start I came to love him as Jill's wall, her strength. But it was obvious it was a relationship that wasn't going anywhere. And just like that, things you have for certain, first things, will eventually go out of your reach. Nothing is forever.
Not even grief.

At first I was a little bothered because I'm not used to reading two-narrators stories, because I think sometimes details are left out and so. But this one delivered everything, and it was exciting getting from one to another. Mandy had me laughing from the moment she was talking to that man on the train, saying that their age gape wasn't that big. She's a funny, looking for the bright side girl. And with Jill it was slowly, and then all at once. They're both easy to like, easy to relate to. And even though they have bigger problems, you still find them struggling with boys, and love, and mothers. It's a beautiful story.
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on September 25, 2013
To say that I adored this book falls short. I wish I had written it. The story is told by Jill and Mandy, two teenagers who would have probably never crossed paths had it not been for the tragedy that changed Jill's once-perfect family and made her mom decide to adopt a baby. Mandy's having a baby and her family life makes her certain she can't have it anywhere near them and she's not even sure she wants to keep it. So, Mandy goes to live with Jill and her mom while they wait for the baby to come. Mandy keeps a lot of secrets from them and under less experienced hands would have come across as a manipulative, callous character but in reality, she's just a girl, too innocent for her age in one sense and too broken for her age in another, who is doing her best to survive. She never wants to hurt anyone, especially the people that took her in when her own mother cast her out. Jill doesn't so much hate Mandy as doesn't trust her or the change that she's bringing about. She hasn't moved on from her loss and her life has been a bit of a mess, last thing she needs is a total stranger coming to live with her. Over the next few weeks, they learn more about each other and about what it means for someone to be family.

I loved how different these characters were, how their voices sounded completely different, how their stories complemented each other. Sara Zarr did a beautiful job with them and also with the supporting characters. All characters in the book moved the plot forward and helped the protagonists.

Highly recommended!
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on July 17, 2013 I could title this post, "Must Read"..the book is just that wonderful. Told in alternating chapters, by Mandy and Jill, it is story that deals with love, loss, hope, tragedy, evil,

Both Mandy and Jill are dealing with intense issues, and as they gradually come to understand each other, through their alternating chronicles, the reader falls in love with both of them; with their stories, with their perspectives. Caring about all of the characters in this novel, is one of its' draws. (well, truthfully, two characters are awful, but described in a manner that allows you to picture them in a holistic manner).

I titled the review, "Try a Little Tenderness" because it is a central theme to the book, and the song plays an important role in Jill's life. Whenever she and her late father were arguing, one would say to the other, "Try a Little Tenderness" and the fight would, kind of a perfect sentiment, right?

So, with Otis singing in the background, I plowed through this book. Yes, crying at the end, but these were tears of joy.

Jill's mother states about life, "be prepared for detours"...and again, how true that is. Some detours we are happy to encounter, others are tragic and throw us for a loop. The death of Jill's dad, throws her family into turmoil, but the detour they ultimately take will have you too crying tears of joy.

I can't recommend this book highly enough.
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on October 4, 2012
I think I liked this book. I'm not sure, actually.
I feel like Jill was the only main character in this book. Especially in the beginning she wasn't very likeable, but she was interesting and I wanted to get to know her and find out why she behaved the way she did. Mandy, on the other hand, felt like an observant narrator to me. Of course her story is really sad and should be moving the reader in some way, but somehow she didn't touch me. I don't have the impression that Mandy is a well-developed character. She isn't very smart - which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but in this story it felt kind of misplaced to me - and I don't see the point in giving her her own point of view. I don't think it added much to the story. I caught myself wanting to skip the pages written in Mandy's POV, it was really exhausting listening to her thoughts/actions sometimes.
I would have loved to learn more of Jill. Again, she felt well-developed and original to me. Her relationship to her parents, her boyfriend and the other characters were very interesting and I found myself worrying about how the author would connect all the loose ends. She did, somehow - badly, in my opinion. The ending felt completely wrong to me. Well, maybe not even the ending itself, that might've been okay, but the way leading to it.
I've read Story Of A Girl and Sweethearts by Sara Zarr and I liked both of those better than this book. Though I don't thing I ever really was satisfied with the way Zarr ended her stories.
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on November 16, 2011
First Impressions: From time to time, I like to take on a book that has a heart-wrenching story line like this one. It reminds me that every day shouldn't be taken for granted. It is also nice to read a story that doesn't involve the paranormal and stays true to real life. I really liked the premise of this book. It reminded me a bit like Juno, which I absolutely fell in love with. I was excited to read a book by this author since I've never read any of her other books before this one.

First 50 Pages: Have you ever read a story that you felt completely absorbed in? As soon as I started to read this book I felt like everything else around me was no longer there. It made me forget anything and everything except for what I was reading on the page. I was completely immersed into this story. It's hard to even describe just how much I was sucked into the world and the writing. How to Save a Life is one of those life-changing stories. It stays with you long after you have finished reading it. I'm not sure if I can give this book a review that will do it justice. It's just that good!

Style of Writing: I want to focus on Sara Zarr's style of writing for a moment. She has a unique quality of heaviness and emotion. She puts an immense amount of feeling into her writing that you can't find in too many Young Adult novels lately. Her words make her characters uncharacteristically human-like. They could walk right off the page and be human, that is how real she makes everything feel. Everyone can relate to this story, even if you have never experienced what her characters have gone through for yourself, which I never have and I hope nobody else ever has to. I love author's who can deal with the heavier issues of life. Not every writer can or is will to try. Sara Zarr is a darn good author!

Characters: The story follows Jill and Mandy with inter-loping POV's. These are unforgettable characters with a great supporting cast. Like the synopsis states, Jill is still grieving for her father and her mother is, I guess, trying to fill in the huge gap he had left behind by adopting a new baby. Jill is memorable character because she is completely mean, rude, and basically a huge jerk. I can honestly think of a better word to call her, but I'll try to be nice. Jill on the other hand, is not as nice as I am. She has her own excuses for the way that she acts, but honestly, there was no good reason for her to act the way she did in the story.

Mandy is unpleasant. That is best I can describe her. She made me feel like she was hiding something and she came across as being very manipulative. It's hard to say much about Mandy without giving away too many spoilers. Let's just say, there is more than meets the eye with this particular character.

Final Thoughts: I was blown away by this novel! I really need to go back and read more from this author and I can't wait to read whatever she comes out with next. The ending was predictable, but that doesn't even matter with this story. Sara did an outstanding job pulling the story off just right with her incredible characters and her unusually talented writing skills. I definitely would recommend picking this one up the next time you are looking for an emotional read!
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on May 12, 2012
On the surface, the subject matter of this book (teen pregnancy) is not the typical fare I would choose to read. However, this story covered a lot more than that. It was about love, loss, grief, healing, and family relationships, both those we are born with and those we make. The author did a good job of making the various relationships, dialogue and character interactions feel real and natural. The use of different narrators doesn't always work for me, but I liked that in this book.

Ultimately, much of this book is how one can cope with grief and loss, and come out the other end still open to love. One theme is the legacy, whether for good or for ill, that we give our children through our example, love or indifference. I enjoyed the author's writing style and would definitely read something else by her.
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on November 14, 2013
"How To Save A Life" is a very insightful book about loss and love, real love. Not just a book for young adults (14+) but a book for adults as well.

It's been a long time since I read a fictional book that has made me actually cry................but this book did just that.

For people that have been lucky enough to have never suffered a severe emotional trauma, such as sexual abuse, an unplanned teenage pregnancy, the loss of a parent while still young, or not ever having a real stable family - this would be a good book to read to help you figure out why those of us who have gone through one or more of the above severe psychological traumas close off the most, right when we need kindness and understanding the most.

The characters were all very well developed, you ended up knowing and caring for them on a intimate level, because they seem so real.

The storyline was very well done, and both believable and extremely insightful from a psychological aspect.

A quick but deep read.

All children deserve a stable home, a loving family and to feel cherished, wanted and loved.

This book for me was therapy. It made me understand a lot about myself.

This book also spans being put into a certain age bracket, it's not just a young adult book. I've very well educated and well read and the writing was down to earth, right on the money about emotions and very insightful. I'm not ashamed to say I read this book my grand daughter picked out. (She's not quite old enough to read it yet at 12) but it will be waiting for her on her future "to read" shelf.

Hope Ms. Zarr's other books are half as good as this hell of a writer, a very good read.
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