How To Save a Life by Sara Zarr Review

Started: January 27, 2016

Finished: February 2, 2016

Rating: 4 stars

Summary (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.

Can you choose your family?

This is the main question that seemed to sum up How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr. And for the majority of the novel, the answer seemed to be a resounding no.

It was the classic opposites story: Mandy had nothing, Jill had everything. Mandy had a tough life, and Jill had one filled with happiness. And then, after Jill’s father dies and Mandy comes into their lives, it seems as if every signal in this book was screaming that you can’t change where you came from and who your family is.

But then as I delved deeper into Jill’s story, and especially Mandy’s, I found myself thinking about this question. As Mandy grappled with the insecurities caused by her eighteen years of being raised under her mother’s “guidance”, I found myself grappling right along with her. And again and again, that question rose in the back of my mind: can you choose your family?

After reading this novel, I have to say the answer for Mandy and Jill is a definite yes. You can choose your family, because family is who loves you unconditionally.

This book was fantastically written and it kept me interested the whole time I was reading. Mandy was by far my favorite character, and I kept seeing something of myself in her. I loved her, and I wanted to cry out of pure happiness at the ending of this novel. The rest of the characters were rich in characterization and I wanted to dig deeper into each and every one of them.

Overall, it was a great read and I applaud Sara Zarr because I greatly enjoyed it. I plan to read her other novels in the future, and hope that you’ll give this one a chance.

NEXT READ: Sweetly by Jackson Pearce


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