Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Plot Summary:
After the loss of her father, Jill has not only shut everyone out her life, she feels that she nothing, or no one, can ever make her feel alive and happy. For Mandy, being pregnant was the last thing she had ever wanted, including the grief that her mother gives her and the fact that she could easily mess up the life of her unborn child just like mother. In order to provide her child with a home, Mandy contacts Jill's mother who decides that after losing her husband, she wanted to adopt a child. Unfortunately, Jill sees this differently and believes that her mother is trying to replace her father. Moreover, Jill was much closer to her dad so the new baby would be replacing her because she graduates in a year since she is not a "mommy's little girl." When Jill and Mandy meet, for the first time, they don't know really what to expect; for Mandy, she just wants what's best for her baby and Jill doesn't want her mother get hurt by adopting a child from a stranger who maybe using them for their money and a place to live. Although Jill won't take a chance on Mandy, it's Mandy who eventually shows Jill just how scared and brave a person can be when happiness is at stake. In this emotional story, two teens must retreat from their old habits and open their hearts to find the love they are looking for and, ultimately, for themselves.

Critical Evaluation:
In this tale of loss and redemption, two teen girls are forced to deal with their issues. Ever since the death of her father, Jill has not allowed herself to grieve; instead, she had chased away her friends, her boyfriend, and taken it out on her mother. For Mandy, no one, not even her mother, have been there for her or provide her with guidance and words of encouragement. In essence, the two girls are complete opposites where one would trade the loss of her father than live with her mother. This story tackles very sensitive issues that not only affect adults, but are extremely difficult for teenagers to deal with on their own. Sara Zarr gives readers the opportunity to look at this situation from Jill and Mandy's point of view, which evoke empathy, patience, and understanding. More importantly, this story revolves around the central theme that love comes in all forms and anyone can have as long as they want it. For me, I had a hard time with Jill because she has everything in the world and yet she she refuses to live. As for Mandy, all I could see is a lost child who is having a child. The more I read, the more I learned that these characters are much more complex, especially when they would contradict themselves.   Given the nature of this story, a happy ending seems like a long shot, but, luckily, the ending will definitely surprise the reader.

Information about the Author:
According to her website, Sara Zarr currently lives with her husband in Salt Lake City, Utah. Along with writing YA novels, she also contributes articles regarding faith, God, and culture. According to a Wikipedia article, Zarr based her debut novel, About a Girl, on the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart  and Once Was Lost revolves around faith, identity, and home. She has written four teen novels and is working on her fifth entitled The Lucy Variations. 

Teen Contemporary Fiction

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 10& up

Books Similar to Save a Life:
Awards & Recognition:
  • Publisher's Weekly Starred Review (10/24/2011)
  • Booklist Starred Review (11/01/2011)
  • Kirkus Starred Review (11/01/2011)
  • VOYA Starred Review (12/01/2011)

{ 1 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Sara Zarr has written a phenomenal book. I absolutely loved it, and of course that means I'm struggling to write the review. I hope I've found the right words to express the awesome that is this novel. How to Save a Life is an emotional novel that will warm your heart.


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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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