How to Save a Life
By Sara Zarr
Publication date: October 18, 2011
Jill MacSweeny's already messy life is turned upside down when her mom announces her plans to adopt a baby. It has been a difficult year since Jill's dad died and she hasn't been coping at all. She has lost her friends and her boyfriend Dylan by pushing them away and shutting them out of her life. Now she has to contend with this major change. Pregnant teen Mandy Kalinowski wants a better life for her baby than the one she has living with her unloving mom and her mother's abusive boyfriend. Mandy believes she has found the perfect family for her baby to grow up in when she meets Robin MacSweeny through an adoption website and then travels to Denver to live with them till the baby is born. Unfortunately while Robin is welcoming, Jill is resentful and doesn't trust Mandy or her own mother's judgment about the adoption.
How to Save a Life is told through the point of view of Jill and Mandy and I think this is a brilliant decision on the part of the author. It allows us to view Mandy through both Jill's jaded eyes and through Mandy's own thoughts. At first I thought I wasn't going to like Mandy's character but I really came to care about her. She is naive and she had a terrible role model in her mother. She has also been through a lot and she is trying to be strong and make the best decision for her baby. Jill is not an easy character to like because of her rude and prickly demeanor but at heart she is also a deeply hurting and wounded person.
This is a book that is strong in character development and the alternating chapters keep the story moving along. There is some romance and while it wasn't really necessary to the plot, it helped to make Jill a more likable character. The two secondary characters, Dylan and Ravi also add to the story. Overall, I think How to Save a Life is an excellent YA contemporary that explores the themes of family, friendship, and grief. Though the ending may be a little saccharine, it is also satisfying and the book should appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen.
Readalikes: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, Moonglass by Jessi Kirby
Note: While I received an e-ARC of this title from NetGalley, I read and reviewed the finished copy which I checked out from the library