How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Published: 18 October 2011 by Little, Brown BYR
Pages: 341 (hardcover)
Genre/s: Young Adult, Contemporary
Source: Own library
Jill's life lost all meaning when her dad died. Friends, boyfriend, college – nothing matters any more. Then her mom drops a bombshell: she's going to adopt a baby.
Mandy is desperate for her life to change. Seventeen, pregnant and leaving home, she is sure of only one thing – her baby must never have a life like hers, whatever it takes.
As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn both how to hold on and how to let go, finding that nothing is as easy - or as difficult - as it seems.
I don't know why it takes me forever to read books that are very highly rated by the blogger community. How to Save a Life is one of those books - a lot of bloggers that I have similar tastes to loved it, and yet it took me a long time to get to reading it. And yes, I do wish I had picked it up sooner.
How to Save a Life is a book that clicked with me from the first page. Jill is dealing with the death of her father the only way she knows how - by pushing people away and shutting them out of her life, including her boyfriend Dylan. And when her mother decides to adopt a baby, Jill is immediately completely against the idea. The connection that Jill had to her father is the thing that really resonated with me - her love and respect for him, and her overwhelming grief at her death felt so personal, so real and was so heartbreaking.
Although she felt closest to her father, she also has a lot in common with her mother, which she doesn't seem to see in her grief - they are both intelligent, focused women and I loved them both as characters. Even their questionable decisions and reactions endeared them to me, because throughout everything both of their hearts were in the right place. Jill is independent, strong minded and I liked that she embraced her feelings and went with her instincts, whether they were right or wrong.
Told in alternating POVs, Mandy irritated me at first - she's the kind of person I would have a similar reaction to as Jill, but as the story progressed and more of her life and background was revealed, I also started to feel sympathy towards her. It's just another example of how good How to Save a Life really is - that Zarr could make me feel that I was in Jill's seat, and my emotions changed along with hers.
I also liked how Zarr handled Dylan and Jill's relationship - as it was already in play before the book began, rather than being a romance, it was more focused on how relationships change and grow as the characters did. There are two male characters, Dylan and Ravi, in Jill's life, and both of them are fabulous - they're caring, kind and not afraid to say what they are thinking - there's no good boy vs bad boy battle, it's simply two nice guys that are prominent in Jill's life for different reasons and I loved them both.
The ending could have been a big cop-out, but Zarr handles it superbly - there's emotion, indecision and finally tough things need to happen, and there's a huge amount of character development in both Jill and Mandy.
I adored How to Save a Life - the characters are larger than life, the plot kept my attention and it was completely addictive. Sad, happy and funny, sometimes separately and sometimes all at once, I can highly recommend it.