Review Blog

Feb 10 2013

How to save a life by Sara Zarr

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Usborne, 2012. ISBN 9781409546757.
(Age: 14+) Recommended. ALA Teens' Top Ten Nominee (2012), YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (Top Ten) (2012).  Jill MacSweeney is appalled when her mother decides to adopt a baby. She believes that it is to fill the void left by the death of her father. Jill has isolated herself from her mother, friends and boyfriend Dylan, leaving only her work at the bookstore, Margins, as any consolation. Mandy Kalinowski is 19, pregnant and knows what it is like to be unwanted. She is determined that her child will have a better life and thinks that will happen in the MacSweeney household. But really Mandy is the one who needs a parent to care for her. Both Jill and Mandy have difficult lessons to learn in this wonderful book that explores relationships and feelings very well.
Sara Zarr is an award winning author and her expertise glows in the way that she manages to write the voices of two completely different young girls. Jill and Mandy tell their experiences in the first person in alternate chapters,  taking the reader into their confidence and exposing their personalities, inadequacies and strengths. I became totally involved with each of the girls, who had such different needs. Jill is so angry and isolated, missing her father so much that she cannot see the love that surrounds her. Mandy has been abused and has never experienced love or care from a parent. Zarr takes both characters on a journey of self discovery and manages to conclude the trip in a wholly satisfying way. This is a feel good story that explores difficult issues in a very sensitive way.
This is the first book that I have read by Sara Zarr, but I certainly will be putting her on my list of favourite authors to read in the future.
Pat Pledger

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