Allison's Book Bag

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Posted on: October 1, 2012

Fiction - January 18

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

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.

How would you rate this book?

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