Fiction – January 18 (Photo credit: Pesky Library)
There are books which one reads at least partially for their informational value. Those sometimes even includes ones told in the form of fiction. And then there is How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr. One could say it’s about adoption, but I wouldn’t read it for that reason. Rather, I’d read it simply because pretty much everything by Sara Zarr is unique and gritty in its portrayal of adolescent girls.
How to Save a Life isn’t about a standard adoption, neither the older form of closed adoption or the newer form of open adoption. Rather, Mandy offers a private adoption to a grieving woman she meets through an online post. Then Mandy travels to Omaha to live with the MacSweeneys until her baby is born. Upfront, Mandy makes clear that she doesn’t want any involvement from agencies or lawyers. While private adoptions like these are not unheard of, they’re also not the safest—and hence are not the norm. For that reason, unlike the majority of other books in my round-up, How to Save a Life isn’t a book you should read to learn about adoption process itself.
On the other hand, you might read it to learn about the emotional turmoil that adoption can cause. Mandy comes from a dysfunctional family, which means she’s looking for a better home for unborn child. Because she’s anxious to start a new life, Mandy doesn’t consider what it would mean to hand her child over to another family. As Mandy grows in her trust for the MacSweeneys, it becomes clear just how little she thought about the moment when she’d give away her child and how potentially tumultuous it might be. Actually, as it turns out, the MacSweeneys haven’t thought much about what happens after adoption either. At least in the case of a standard open adoption, both sides should have talked to case managers, filled out paperwork, and even met before either agree to adoption. Yet the reality is nothing will ever truly lessen how difficult the decision will be for both sides. And Zarr understands this.
Sara Zarr (Photo credit: Ron Hogan)
That said, there are still better books in my round-up for understanding the emotional dynamics of adoption. Because How to Save a Life is really about two teens who have lost their way. Jill MacSweeney has lost her dad and in doing so has lost herself. In the year which has passed since her dad’s death, Jill has managed to push away her mom, her friends, and her lover. Surprisingly, she has held onto her bookstore job. As for Mandy, she is in reality searching for a better life, but it took getting pregnant to propel her into action. The fact that Mandy is pregnant is only an element of the story, just as the fact that Jill’s dad has died, but neither of these issues are what How to Save a Life is really about. Bottom line, both Jill and Mandy are searching for a new identity and, in crossing paths, the two change the direction of each other’s lives.
In the past few months, I have become a huge fan of Sara Zarr. Everything she writes is a twist on the norm. She also knows how to get inside the heads of troubled adolescent girls. While I can’t recommend you read How to Save a Life to learn about adoption, I do encourage you to set aside time to read everything you can find by Sara Zarr.
PS Do I sense another author round-up in the future?
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
Américas Award for Children’s & Young Adult Literature
CLASP founded the Américas Award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States.
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. It was established by in 1936, in memory of the great Scottish-born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.
The Christy Awards are awarded each year to recognize novels of excellence written from a Christian worldview.
Coretta Scott King Award
The Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples. It is given to African American authors and illustrator.
children and young adult blogger literacy awards
Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award
The Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award was initiated in 2000 to recognize authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that appropriately portray individuals with deve
Hans Christian Anderson Award
The Hans Christian Andersen Awards is given to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature. The award is the highest international recognition an author can receive.
Kate Greenaway Medal
The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It is named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her fine children’s illustrations and designs.
Middle East Book Award
The Middle East Book Award recognizes quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of the Middle East and its component societies and cultures.
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award
Honors fantasy books for younger readers, in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia
Newbery Medal Award
The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Pura Belpré Award
The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. It is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino experience.
Red House Book Award
The Red House Children’s Book Award is a series of literary prizes for works of children’s literature published during the previous year in England.
Sydney Taylor Award
The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.