Sunday, November 13, 2011

How to Save a Life

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?

Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about what it means to be a family and the many roads we can take to become one.

I wasn't really sure what I'd think about this book.  I got it because I'd heard great things about it, and I loved the cover--it's not one of those covers I'd necessarily call "gorgeous," it's just so simple and neat and completely fitting.  

But the description didn't sound like my normal type of read. And when I first started reading it, I was a little "Ehhh, not sure about this."  

I kept reading. And I'm really glad I did.

Sara Zarr's writing, her characters, the plot, and this book in general can be described by two words: simply beautiful.  Zarr doesn't go extravagant; her writing is simple, her world is simple, her plot is simple, and her characters . . . they're not simple so much as they don't have that glossy "otherness" to them that many fictional characters do.  Zarr's characters are real, honest-to-G-d people.

But it was perfect. Because this book didn't need fanciness. It didn't need beautiful prose or a hugely complicated plot or characters designed to make readers fall in love with them.  It needed a sort of frankness to it, a realness, and that's what it had.

While I loved this whole book, my favorite part was Zarr's characters.  I loved Mandy almost from the start, and I adored Robin, and Ravi(<3), and Dylan.  But I wasn't so sure about Jill.  In fact, I thought I was going to hate her.  I mean, she was cruel, she was mistrustful, she shut everyone out, even when they were trying to help. Why would I like that?

Because Jill was a real person. A real, broken person just trying to cope with loss and change and who she was.  Because beneath the cruelty and mistrustfulness and all the angry words and actions, there was beauty and determination and the strength to keep going.

Then there's Mandy.  I just . . . I was torn this whole book between wanting to hug her and high five her.  She is also a broken character, though for a very different reason, and despite everything she's been through, she still has such an . . . innocence about her, this child-like wonder and, as Jill called it, "kookyness" that was just so beautiful and adorable and fantastic.

Usually it's hard to like two love interests, but I managed to love both Ravi and Dylan(though I happened to prefer Ravi).  Just like with Zarr's main characters, these are not the type of people you dream about at night.  They're not ridiculously gorgeous with supernatural powers and snappy one-liners and awesome accents.  But they're real.  I feel like that's the word I keep using: real. Zarr understands how humans really are better than almost any author I've seen.

And lastly, Robin.  All I will say is that I wish I had a mother as awesome as her.

This story is told in dual POVs--Jill and Mandy.  I'm a little iffy on multiple POVs in stories. Sometimes it really works, sometimes it really doesn't.  In this book, it really worked.  Even if they weren't in different fonts, I could've flipped to any given page, read a paragraph, and told you without a doubt who was the narrator.  The voices were incredibly distinct, and I never looked forward to one POV more than another.  Both were great to read and critical to the plotline.

As far as the plot is concerned, well, I don't really want to say much.  I feel like it's the sort of thing you should just read for yourself.  All I'm gonna say is  that I loved the ending. You all know I'm a sucker for happy endings.

This book is most definitely five stars. Go read it.


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