Thursday, October 27, 2011

How to Save a Life

Sara Zarr is one of my favorite YA authors.  She doesn't implore the use of paranormal or fantasy in her writing - just good ol' fashioned story telling.  Stories that appeal youth and adults alike.  I met her four years ago when she was doing a book tour for Sweethearts, her second novel and it was fascinating to hear her read from the text.  A real live author in the high school where I teach reading aloud to teens hanging on her every word.

I enjoy her writing so much, I've even emailed her since the meeting - something I've never done before with an author - to share with her how her books have touched my life.  She replied!  It felt like a real conversation.  Her books are stories I think of fondly all the time and ones I know I'll read again.  She is the author of four novels:  Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, Once was Lost and now, How to Save a Life.  I loved her first three novels, so I knew I would love the latest publication.

And I did.

Sara Zarr's latest book How to Save a Life does not disappoint. This touching YA novel shows the depth of caring and love through a family experiencing a great loss.  Robin, after losing her husband suddenly has decided a new baby is just what the family needs.  She and "Mac" had always talked about adopting and fostering but just never got around to it.  Jill, her daughter, is completely against the idea.  Since her father's death, Jill has adopted a "rebel without a cause" attitude towards life.  It's mostly just a ploy to cover up the immense hurt she feels from losing a parent at such a young age.  Her high school graduation is fast approaching, and who she was before and after her father's death are complete strangers to one another.  She's managed to isolate herself from her friends and her first love boyfriend is in an on-again-off-again status, it really just depends on the day of the week.  And now - now her mom wants a new baby?  Jill could not be more pleased (a sarcastic line I feel her character would think apropos). 

But her mom is convinced it's what the family needs.

Enter Mandy.  A young girl that's found herself in a family way before her time.  Mandy has only had one love, Christopher.  She's saw him once, at a Fair, and they sneaked off to the corn fields.  It sounds horrible - the idea that she jumped right into the veggie stalks with this guy, but when you read the way Zarr writes this true love moment in time, your heart bleeds for Mandy.  When learning she is pregnant, she panics because she doesn't know who the father is.  Still sounds like you'd think poorly of her - you're wrong again.  Mandy's mother is "that mom".  A mom that has a string of boyfriends and the next one is going to be the one that gets them out of their situation, which of course he never is.  The latest love conquest, Kent, is more interested in Mandy that her mother.  Let your imagination run wild.

But, despite her poor upbringing, Mandy is not a dumb blonde - an idea her mother would prefer her to be.  She decides she wants her baby to have a better life than she does and she knows one thing for certain, she never wants the baby around Kent and her mother.  She goes onto an open adoption website and Robin is there - it's Kismet.  Things aren't perfect and there are some bumps in the road, but in the end How to Save a Life does just that. 

Zarr's use of language and writing style is what makes this story so appealing.  I found myself nodding along with lines of text, quotes like, "It’s the quiet kind of crying that can go for hours, when over and over again you try to stop, try to tell yourself it’s going to be okay, but another part of yourself can’t stop thinking about the thing that’s breaking your heart."  Reader's will find themselves immersed in sympathy and empathy for the characters she creates.  

I don't know what's next on her writing plate, but I hope for something soon.  If you'd like to check out more about Sara Zarr, visit her website at

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