Sara Zarr knows How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr; published by Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2011; 341 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  The book was released in October, 2011.

Jill’s dad died in a tragic car accident.  She’s not over her grief even a year later.  Her mom, Robin, has found a crazy way to get past her grief: adopt a baby.  On a website dedicated to open adoption, matching babies with families without legal intervention, Robin has chosen Mandy’s child to become part of the family.  Mandy comes into the MacSweeney home with a whole lot of baggage; lies, manipulation and a couple of big secrets.  Whose life will be saved by the end of the book is anyone’s guess.

Wow.  I’m impressed.  It didn’t take me long to get to suspension of disbelief (online message board? picking a birth mom and bringing her into your home sight unseen? really?).  Zarr’s ability to tell the story from both Mandy and Jill’s perspectives is remarkable.  Mandy’s paradox of innocence and manipulation actually endears her.  I liked that her narration is printed in a sans-serif, non-traditional font; it suits her.  Jill, too, is a believable character, hiding in silent grief then slowly melting into a concerned friend and loving daughter.  Her narration is told with a more traditional, Times New Roman looking font.

Teen girls will love this book.  Teen pregnancy is not glorified.  The tortures of deciding whether or not to keep a baby are also realistically covered.  Other issues, which I will not divulge, are also handled in a realistic yet sensitive manner.  Character development is believable; no uninspired moments of unexpected growth here.  Zarr has captured and delivered a realistic story with believably likable characters.  She also captures the blurred definitions of family, friends and parenthood, revealing the most altruistic definitions of them all.

I expect big things for this book, which has already received a number of starred reviews.

5P     5Q     Grade Level: 10-12+

Cover Art: The ARC cover and the final cover don’t appear significantly different, but I think they are.  Both are cold, lonely snow scenes, with empty benches and lots of blankness.  Two sets of footprints appear in the snow on both covers.  However, the addition of a seated blond (obviously Mandy) on the final cover detracts from the fact that multiple lives are saved in this story; that Mandy’s is not the only story revealed.  However, I do think the blurred edges of the title are appropriate to the fuzzy lines between what friends, family and parenthood really mean.

From Reading List: Keepin’ It Real (Realistic Fiction)

Advanced Reader Copy cover

How to Save a Life final cover


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