How to Save a Life
By Sara Zarr
Jill MacSweeney just wants everything to 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. You can’t lose one family member and simply replace him with a new one, and when her mom decides to adopt a baby, that’s exactly what it feels like she’s trying to do. And that’s decidedly not normal. With her world crumbling around her, can Jill come to embrace a new member of the family?
Mandy Kalinowski knows 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, she knows she wants a better life for her baby. But can giving up a child be as easy as it seems? And will she ever be able to find someone to care for her, too?
Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about what it means to be a family and the many roads we can take to become one.
This Blonde’s Review:
Jill and Mandy are both in tough situations. Jill’s father died suddenly and she is struggling to cope with missing the parent she was most like. Mandy is young and pregnant and wants more for her child. When Jill’s mother, Robin, agrees to adopt Mandy’s baby and tells Jill about it afterwards, they all start on a path to the unknown.
When we see things through Jill’s eyes we see Jill’s distrust and we see how her father’s death affects her. We don’t get into the emotional side of his death or hear much about what happened, only the way she pushes people away. And how she feels she can’t be a good person without him there to understand the hard side of her and remind her to be more giving. Jill resents Mandy’s presence and the child she’s going to give birth to. She feels that her mother is trying to replace her father with this new baby. She doesn’t trust that Mandy doesn’t have ulterior motives or will really do what she says she will.
Mandy has had a hard life, but she seems strangely innocent and sweet. She always does her hair a certain way because that is how her mother taught her. She meets a stranger on a train and writes him letters, imagining he may come to care for her and they could build something. Mandy believes that Robin will take good care of her child and be able to give him/her more than Mandy herself ever could. She believes in Robin. At the same time she has the same doubts and imagines keeping her child and raising it herself. As we see things through Mandy’s eyes we learn more about her past and what brought her to this point. We learn about the father of her child, and why she ran from her home as soon as she could.
This book was heartbreaking to think about, yet strangely not very emotional. Thinking of losing a father or of the things Mandy went through is enough to sadden me, yet the story was less about what had happened and more about where they were going next. As they learn more about each other and start to care, things get more complicated instead of less so.Throughout the story I juggled what I thought would be the best idea. Was it best if Robin adopted the baby from Mandy? What would happen to her if that happened? Or would it be best if Mandy kept the baby and Robin and Jill dealt with their grief together in other ways? I didn’t expect what happened, but it really was the best possible idea. I loved it.
I also really enjoyed that everything wasn’t centered around the baby. Jill had her own issues with friends and her boyfriend that had nothing to do with Mandy or her child. Mandy had things she had to deal with on her own as well, and she had to find the strength to deal with them so she could handle the situation she was already in.In some ways I think this story could have been better, since I did expect it to be more emotionally charged. At the same time I really enjoyed it and really enjoyed Mandy, Jill, and Robin as told through their eyes. The dynamics could be complicated because they all have such different personalities, yet together they can build something that would strengthen them all and help the child that was going to be born.
If you enjoy novels with complicated emotions, different viewpoints, and want to read a book that makes you hope for the best for all of the characters you should give this one a try. I have enjoyed other books by Sara Zarr and this did not make me change my opinion of her as an author that catches my eye.