Thursday, 15 October 2015

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr **Review**

How to Save a Life
Series: None
Pages: 411
Publisher: Usborne
Release date: 1st September 2012
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones

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Goodreads synopsis:
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.

Heart-achingly beautiful, moving and funny, How to Save a Life has been named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2011, a School Library Journal Best Book of 2011 and an American Library Assocation 2012 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults.

I bought How to Save a Life on my Kindle maybe about 3 years ago and then promptly forgot it was on there. As much as I love my Kindle, it doesn't live up to the feel of reading a physical book, so the books that I had only as eBooks kind of got forgotten. Recently, though, I have been reading more and more eBooks again, and I went searching through my device for something I had forgotten about. I wanted something where I didn't remember what the synopsis said ... a mystery read, if you will. How to Save a Life is the book that I chose. I'm so glad that I did.

The chapters alternate between two teenage girls, Mandy and Jill, and tell each of their stories, gradually merging them into one. The first thing that struck me about these two characters is how utterly real they are. I was immediately drawn into their lives, and I felt not just like a reader, but kind of like their friend. I was allowed in on their biggest secrets, fears and flaws (of which they have many).
Both girls have suffered in their recent pasts, and as the story develops we see more and more of what has happened to them, particularly Mandy – I could never imagine being in her situation and how terrible it must be.

How the two girls act also feels very true to their age and characters. At the beginning, Mandy is not particularly truthful about her pregnancy and situation, but the more we learn about what she's been through, the more that makes sense.
And Jill is not at all nice or welcoming to Mandy, but she has her own reasons for that – and I have to admit that I may not have been so trusting of a pregnant stranger coming to live with my family either, especially one who didn't want social workers involved. All of these things contribute to making them feel like real people, and that was one of the best things about the book for me – I felt like I was reading about real people.

The other characters felt just as real as Mandy and Jill did – Robin, Jill's mother, was a really great character, and although she's been through some difficult times, I couldn't help but love her for accepting Mandy and her unborn child into her life so readily.
Dylan is Jills on-again-off-again boyfriend, who despite how horrible Jill has been and how much she has pushed him away, has remained patient and stuck by her through everything. Even though theirs isn't the perfect relationship, I still loved Dylan being around, especially once he met Mandy.
Ravi was probably my favourite of the secondary characters – a little bit awkward and unsure of himself at times, but he was incredibly loveable and my only regret about this book is that it ended so soon and we didn't get to see what kind of a part Ravi will play in the story beyond the pages.

The issues the book raises are really important too, I think, and they were handled really well. Teenage pregnancy, loss of a family member, friendships/relationships, abuse ... these are all things that the book covers and it does so gently and well.

Although How to Save a Life didn't quite make it to the 5 star rating, it did make it to a 4.5 – it surprised me with its honesty and how easily it drew me into the characters' lives. I only wish I could have stayed with them a bit longer. But the ending, I think, is the only one it could have had, and I love that it was left so open, so that it really feels like the characters have lives that continue beyond the final page.

I absolutely adored this book, and I think it's one that many more people need to be aware of and pick up. If you've not read it already, I urge you to go and get yourself a copy.


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