Saturday, 24 May 2014


How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

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.

I apologise in advance for the fact that you'll probably have the Fray song stuck in your head for the next few days, but really I'm not that sorry. I've had it stuck in mine for about two weeks now and I'm getting pretty damn sick of it. Infuriating title aside, I really liked this book. 

Jill's grouchy and grieving. Mandy's scared and determined. The girls are very different, but I had the same reaction to both of them - sometimes I wanted to shake some sense into them, sometimes I wanted to hug them and promise that everything was going to be okay. By the end, I loved both of them. I was worried all the way through that things would end badly for one of them, purely because of the nature of the story, but I wasn't rooting for one of them more than the other. I wanted both of them to have a happy ending, and I never wish for a happy ending, so this was quite an achievement on Zarr's part.

Also an achievement by Zarr was the way she managed to pull off alternating first-person viewpoints for two girls of the same age. She made it seem almost effortless. I never had any concerns about which girl was speaking to me, and it's rare for me to be able to say that. Even in books with characters of different ages or genders, I can still get confused. Both girls have very different voices, so it was easy to tell them apart, and I never found myself enjoying one more than the other, which is the other problem I frequently find in books with multiple points of view - I'll have a favourite and always want to be getting back to it.

I have to address the ending, because it was the only thing I think let the book down in any way. While I did want a happy ending, what happens seems a little bit too convenient. It was foreshadowed, so it didn't just come out of nowhere, but at the same time it kind of did. And it was a chapter longer than it needed to be. If you're going to read it, I'd recommend just lopping off the last chapter and leaving it at that. It doesn't add anything, it's just a little bit cheesy.

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