Wednesday, November 9, 2011

BR: How To Save a Life

by Sara Zarr

Two reviews in one week! I’m spoiling you guys, aren’t I? This book has only been totally raved about by Nomes from Inkcrush (I love that lady, seriously) so I knew I had to read it.

Summary (goodreads):

Jill MacSweeney just wants everything to 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. You can't lose one family member and simply replace him with a new one, and when her mom decides to adopt a baby, that's exactly what it feels like she's trying to do. And that's decidedly not normal. With her world crumbling around her, can Jill come to embrace a new member of the family?

Mandy Kalinowski knows 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, she knows she wants a better life for her baby. But can giving up a child be as easy as it seems? And will she ever be able to find someone to care for her, too?

My Expectations: I really liked Story of a Girl but disliked Sweethearts by Sara Zarr, but I had high hopes for this one.
Delivery: It was a good read. A solid, enjoyable book but I don’t think I was as emotionally affected as I hoped I would be.
Put-down-ability: 4/10

My Thoughts

How to Save a Life is an emotionally heavy, character-driven contemp that I think had the potential to turn me into a waterfall but just fell slightly flat. It always sucks for me to say that because I recognize the ‘what could’ve been’ but in reality, I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I hoped to, and in turn, I couldn’t commit fully to the story.

Zarr has a serious talent for writing her characters; it’s simply a fact. Both Jill and Mandy were complicated and three-dimensional in their own way, and I’ll admit I wasn’t fond of Mandy at all at the beginning, but in retrospect, it’s what makes her such brilliant character. Zarr understands that not every character needs to be immediately likeable, but when the reader begins to understand and sympathize with the characters, it builds that special bond (if you know what I mean). Jill on the other hand is still grieving and vulnerable, and there was something about her that drew me to her. Her relationships with Dylan (who I seriously adore) and Ravi were fleshed out and convincing, and I especially loved the tentative strings that formed between Jill and Ravi.

While there’s so much to love and admire about these characters, including the complexly caring Mrs. MacSweeny, I just couldn’t take that extra step and fall in love with them. Their stories are tragic, beautiful, heartbreaking, and so many different shades of grey, but I just never felt my own heartstrings tugging or my heartbeat beating faster. Really, I want to just say it’s not you, it’s me. Honestly.

I loved the writing style in the novel, I felt Zarr captured the essence of the two girls and I found the to alternating POVs distinct and extremely well done. There were times when both characters would be frustrating, but other times when I seriously wanted to just give them a hug and hot chocolate-- which in my mind, means the author has done her job :)

Lastly, there’s the plot, and I dunno, maybe it was this part that let me down. I’m trying to find a reason why, but it just comes down to ‘it just didn’t work for me’. What a cop-out, I know, but I found it hard to be invested in the outcome (and the ending, by the way, is… a bit too feel-good). I mean, the motivations are there, I can see the ripple effects of character interactions, and it was interesting… but I was kind of ambivalent throughout.

Okay, I see now that my review is all over the place, and I think when it comes down to it, it's one of the novels where I admire and appreciate a ton of the elements in it, but I just didn't love it for myself. The strongest part of the novel is no doubt, the characters (which in relation to that, Zarr's writing) but I didn't find myself cheering for them or loving them, which I guess means I was disappointed with my lack of reaction.

Rating in HP Terms: Acceptable
Recommended for: YA contemp fans, don’t miss out.
Acknowledgements: none in ARC

8.3/10 – because for me, it was pretty good but not great. I wish I could say I had a more positive, emotional response but maybe I’m a robot or something, but I recognized the beauty of so many parts of the novel, but didn’t feel personally affected. However, I’ll whole-heartedly say that the characters are well portrayed with exceptional writing, and the plot was interesting, so I have no problem recommending it.

source: publisher
author twitter / website
book webpage

publisher twitter / Facebook


  1. It's always hard to explain when the book isn't bad, when it's good, but we just didn't personally connect to it. I understand what you mean!

  2. Hmm, I can see the characters being likeable but not loveable... (That is kinda what you meant, right?) Maybe I'll pick this one up to check out the writing style, which I seem to remember from Story of a Girl was pretty wicked. And usually I dig feel-good. :P

  3. Everyone's been talking about this book, especially that it's VERY character-driven. So I can see where the plot let you down...

    A feel-good ending? Depends on the novel in question, methinks.

    Great review! And I'm definitely reading this one to see how I feel about it.

  4. ahh, Audrey :) YAY for two reviews in a week ;)

    Also, yes, I loved this book like MAD. But, I can see why if you can't connect, well, it won't do much for you :)

    Anyways, you still write the best reviews ever for books (even for ones you are not crazy in love with).

  5. Jillian- I'm glad! I know right, it sucks when that happens :(

    Yahong- Hehe it's very feel-good at the end, I'd be v. interested to hear what you think! :)

    Rida- Yeah, i mean the plot isn't bad or anything, I just didn't love it :p Definitely agree-- deffs depends on the novel, thanks and I can't wait to see what you think!

    Nomes- hehe thanks, lady :) I'm sooo glad you loved it, and thank you so much <3

  6. Writing reviews for books I'm ambivalent about always feel like the hardest ones to write.. I still really liked yours though! I'm still set on reading it whenever I get the chance, but I love reading your thoughts; your reviews are excellent. :)

  7. Ah that's the worst when intellectually you know it is beautiful, but you aren't feeling it. I still have to read a Sara Zarr book, I don't know how I haven't yet!

    Great review, I do love your reviews :)

  8. I REALLY need to read this! I'm a big Sara Zarr fan. Its a bummer that you weren't totally sold on this book though. Sad day. :(

  9. Oh, I bummed that you didn't love this one, although it does sound like there is still a lot to like! I LOVED Story of a Girl, so I have very high hopes/expectations from the rest of Zarr's works. I need to get reading :P

  10. I loved this one but I understand exactly where you're coming from, especially in regards to the characters. This was my first Zarr book so maybe that was a factor in my thoughts!

    Great review though, Audrey! :)


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