How to Save a Life

by Sara Zarr

High school senior Jill grew up in an upper middle class home with two great parents.... read more

High school senior Jill grew up in an upper middle class home with two great parents. But since her dad’s death a year ago, Jill has shut out almost everyone in her life. Eighteen-year-old Mandy grew up the child of a single mother who spent as much time resenting Mandy as providing the bare minimum. A year after her dad’s death, Jill’s mom Robin has decided to adopt a baby. She found pregnant Mandy on a message board and now the teen is coming to say with them until the baby is born. Mandy’s painful neediness, naiveté, and lack of esteem belie a toughness and raw intelligence—she’s figuring things out as she goes, but she is determined to make a good life for the baby, and maybe herself, too, even if it means lying. Jill’s grief manifests as coldness toward others, and she hates that she’s not the person she used to be ... or wants to be. Jill resents Mandy’s presence and thinks her mom is crazy, while Mandy is puzzled by Jill, who can’t see the good things in front of her. Gradually, their relationship thaws, but just when Jill finds herself invested in helping Mandy, Mandy feels threatened, believing Jill knows too much about her past. Sara Zarr’s main characters reveal themselves in one telling scene after another in a story that succeeds because they are so very real. Between them, Jill and Mandy bear the pain of loss, neglect, and abuse. Together, they find a more hopeful future. Zarr takes pains to set up the story’s positive ending as credible, and it comes with sweet relief in a novel that features wonderfully developed secondary characters, too. (Age 13 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2012

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