How to Save a Life
By Sarah Zarr
Little, Brown, 2011. 341 pgs. Teen fiction
Jill is a senior in high school when her mother decides she's going to adopt a baby; via the internet she has "met" a young mother who is willing to give up her baby, but she wants it done without lawyers and agencies. Jill has tried to convince her mother that this is a bad idea, that she's just grieving for her late husband and that she can't just impulsively adopt a child. And yet, her mother invites Mandy to come stay with them in the weeks before the delivery. At first, Jill, who has cut herself off from pretty much everyone since her father's death, can't stand Mandy or the idea of her being there, and she's certain Mandy isn't telling the truth about a lot of stuff (and she isn't). And yet, as the time passes, it turns out that Mandy and her baby might be exactly what Jill and her mother need.
Jill and Mandy alternately narrate this novel of love and healing and hope. Each girl has struggles that readers, although perhaps not in the exact same situation, will be able to relate to and will be able to take hope from the changes and healing that come about for the two protagonists. Both girls have moments when they're frustrating, but it never goes over the top, which means Zarr nailed the personality of the normal teenager without antagonizing readers. There's some language and off-screen sex, and it tackles hard issues so it's probably best for mature readers. I'd be putting off reading this one for months for some reason (maybe because I didn't particularly like Zarr's book Sweethearts), but I'm definitely glad it made it's way to the top of my list. It's a rewarding book for those who looking for a little insight into life and love. It's also the sort of book that invites you to compassion--I think I might have sided with Jill on some things (like it being really weird for a mom to invite a pregnant teenager to their home without getting more information and stuff), and I tend to be a little judgmental myself, like Jill, and so as a reader, it was good for me to be able to see Mandy's point of view and gain a little compassion and be able to grow along with Jill.
I listened to the downloadable audiobook. The narrator who did Mandy's voice was a little grating at first but grew on me by the end; the narrator for Jill's voice was very good.