January 7, 2013

Book Review: How to Save a Life

Author: Sara Zarr

Pages: 341

Year Published: 2011

Quote: "Sometimes the road home is the hardest to find"

Quick synopsis from Goodreads:
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.

Before I read the last 50 pages or so of this book, I thought I had already set my mind on my thoughts for it. And trust me, they were good thoughts. But then, all the storyline slowly unraveled down into a sort of unnatural ending. So now I am torn. I do not know whether or not I should still love this book. The things a bad ending can do...

I have read all of Sara Zarr's book. Story of a Girl, Once was Lost, Sweethearts. None of them appealed to me, yet when I laid my eyes on How to Save a Life at the library, I knew I just had to read it. And so began a journey with a book that I had low hopes for, but remained open hearted to. And wow, after a few dozens pages, I thought I had found my book. The story, the characters, the details... They just fit so right, so at ease.

Jill was one of those characters you have trouble figuring out at first, and still do at the end of the day. Most of the time, she was cold as a rock, but she did show a few weak cracks under the hard surface there and then. She has had difficulty getting the right words out ever since her Dad died. He was her support, her coach and mentor, her rock. But she had this fire inside of her, and although it had been severely weakened since the death of her father, you could still perceive it even in the darkest of days. And that's what made me love her. Her attitude, her passion.

Then comes Mandy. Ever since the death of her husband, Jill's mom, Robin, has wanted a baby. To help heal that empty soul in the house. And so, when Robin finds out about Mandy through the website Love Grows, an unofficial adoption board, she knows that Mandy could be the right fit for her situation. And Mandy thought that way too.

Eighteen, lost and socially awkward, Mandy is pregnant with a baby whose father could be either of two men. All her childhood, she's been taught by a mother that never wanted her. Strongly influenced by her mother, Mandy is sometimes unsure of herself, as her mother's voice keeps lingering in her mind. At first, Mandy seems like the kind of girl that likes to flirt, and keep all the good things for herself. But underneath her sketchy personality and seemingly superficial attitude is just a girl trying to discover her true self. A girl with a kind heart and open mind, and who uses her tough childhood as something to learn from, not to look down upon.

And so begins a journey that starts out tough, but slowly mellows out into a beautiful story of self-discovery, forgiveness and looking through your heart, not eyes. The connection between Jill and Mandy is something wonderful to watch develop, and Robin's sweet and tender voice also shone through. All the supporting characters had each their own set of great qualities, and flaws that made them into who they are. I think every character played an essential role in this book, whether it was big or small.

Zarr's writing really does shine in this book. Those subtle little details, like the turn of an eye, or the touching of two hands, contributed so much to the genuineness of this book. Zarr manages to catch them so well, and also writes with a certain rawness that cannot be replicated. She really does succeed at converting the power of simple human emotions into words of wisdom.

And yet, all these great things, amazing things, are slightly tampered by the ending. More than slightly. When I think of a Sara Zarr ending, I think of a soft, bittersweet ending with a hint of hope. How to Save a Life ended quite happily, yet it left a lot of things undecided, hanging like loose threads with no one to sew them back together. It was disappointing and slightly frustrating, to say the least. When you are so emotionally invested, so sure about a book, and it ends up falling short to your expectations, it takes a blow on you. But there is nothing I can do about it, so I've just got to accept that it is what it is, and rather appreciate the rest of the book.

I cannot get myself to give a rating for this book, because five stars would be lying, and less than five stars would also be lying. But I can tell you this: How to Save a Life is an achingly beautiful book that will leave you with a strong mark and a wider view of life and everything in between it.


  1. Aww, this book sounds so passionate and emotional and thoughtful. And, sometimes, books that you can't give a rating to, are either the best or the worst of the books. :)

    I love how you always right just vivid reviews that make me continue to think that you should be a poet or a writer! But if you aren't pursuing that goal, your reviews are beautiful enough.

    Or, maybe it's just that the writing and the story for this book is pretty darn beautiful. Or maybe it's both. >_____<

    1. I think it's both, but mostly the beautiful writing of Sara Zarr... And gosh, thank you so much for your compliment! Honestly, I can only write good reviews if I'm in a good "mood", and if the book is really thought-provoking.

      Again, thanks for the comment, and reading my review, Delaney!

      -Grace :)

  2. Ah Grace we are so alike! I haven't loved any of Sara Zarr's books either, but I've been aching to read this one. I've read so many interesting and compelling reviews - I want to give it a chance. Even though you didn't absolutely adore every aspect of it your review was well-written and comprehensive enough to entice me once again... so thank you for that!

    1. Well, thank you for your compliment! And I do think you should give this book a try, it's really quite wonderful, and maybe you'll enjoy the ending more than I did!

      Thanks for reading my review and commenting, Thomas!

      -Grace :)

  3. I think this is the best review that I have read of your's, yet! The way that you describe the characters make me want to run out to the bookstore and read the book(even though it is raining).

    1. Aw, thank you so much, Lottie! I was lucky to have been the first to borrow it at the library, so it was basically like reading a brand new book!

      Thank you for commenting and reading my review!

      -Grace :)


Hi! If you are here, I'm assuming that you've just read my post. If yes, don't hesitate on leaving a quick comment, I truly do appreciate each and every single one of them!

-Grace :)


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