How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life by Sara ZarrHow to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 341 pages
My copy: hardbound, ordered from Book Depository

Jill MacSweeny just wishes everything could 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. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she’s somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.

Mandy Kalinowski understands 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, one thing she’s sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It’s harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?

As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy–or as difficult–as it seems.

* * *

It’s a bad time for Jill MacSweeny ever since her father died. Always a daddy’s girl, Jill feels lost without her dad, but now she just feels angry that her mom had decided to do the unthinkable: adopt a baby. And not just adopt a baby, but let the mother of the baby live with them until the baby is delivered. Jill shuts them both out, and couldn’t care less about the baby or shopping for baby jogger mini doubles, but deep inside she feels hurt that her mom seems to be moving on fine while she isn’t. Mandy Kalinowski is the pregnant girl in question, and she’s always known how it feels to be unwanted. Mandy wants a better life for her baby, and she thinks Robin MacSweeny would be able to give just that. She moves in with them as agreed, and she finds Robin to be a very nice person, even if her daughter Jill never liked Mandy. But as her due date grows nearer, she’s faced with doubts: can she really let her baby go? And if she does, what happens to her after that?

I was pretty sure I was going to like How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, but I was surprised at how much I ended up loving it. I’m a big fan of Sara Zarr, not just her books but her posts at the Good Letters blog. She’s quickly becoming one of my sources of inspiration online, and I like that her books reflect what she believe in. I wanted to read this as soon as I got it, but I kind of feared that I wasn’t ready for the emotional punch that it had, especially after most of the reviews said a lot about tears being shed and all that. But the good reviews gave me something to look forward to, so reading it at the start of 2012 felt like a perfect gift for myself.

Like in Sara Zarr’s other books, there is a quiet beauty in how Jill and Mandy’s story unfolded. They were two characters from the opposite ends of the spectrum, clashing horribly at first. Honestly, I thought both characters were unlikeable. When I read Jill’s parts, I wanted to shake her for being so bitter and out of it. She reminded me a bit of Macy in The Truth About Forever, but also not quite because Macy seemed easier to approach compared to Jill who completely shut everyone out. Mandy, on the other hand, is someone who I would probably steer clear from if I met someone like her in real life. I could understand why Jill would rather avoid her, aside from the fact that she was carrying the baby that Jill never wanted to be a part of their family. Mandy is socially awkward and more often than not, the things she says hit the wrong note in other people who do not know how to be patient with her. I admit to be that kind of person, unfortunately, so sometimes reading Mandy’s chapters were a struggle. Oh, but I also ached for her so much, too. The two grew on me as the story went on, and it wasn’t even because there were drastic changes to their personality. In fact, the changes that happened to them didn’t feel like changes at all — they were choices. The choice to do something right, to think of others first, the choice to love in spite of and because of things they cannot understand. It all unfolds beautifully in the story, and it filled my heart with so much love for these two girls that I just want the best for them too.

Normally I would ramble on about how the plot was good and how the other characters were equally as good here, but to be perfectly honest, I can’t. Not that the other characters weren’t good (they were, and they were very fun to read) or the plot was bad (it wasn’t, although the predictable factor is high). It’s just that the book really concentrates on how Jill and Mandy’s lives were changed and saved by the choices that they and the people who loved them made. It all came together so beautifully that I didn’t care if I sort of predicted the ending pages ago — it was still worth getting to it. I was happy that it ended that way. Overall, How to Save a Life is a story of family and love, and how that kind of love can really save a life.

I end this review with a quote from her post about the book on the Good Letters Blog, which I think sums up why I loved this book so much:

As reluctant as I am to talk about “themes” in my work or to explain it or myself, I can see, after four published novels and three unpublished, that this idea of intentional family, of claiming and being claimed, is one of the themes lurking beneath and hovering around all of my work.

My stories seem to always involve people choosing to love other people, in spite of the pain those people have sometimes brought them, in spite of the way they let each other down, in spite of both their minor imperfections and deep flaws.

In the interviews I’ve done about How to Save a Life thus far, nine times out of ten I’m asked if I worried that one of the characters, Jill, was unsympathetic or unlikeable. No, I say. I didn’t worry about it. My editor did, to an extent, and I worked a little on showing glimpses of Jill’s humanity. But not much. Because the point about love, this free will love of the people we call family or true friends, the people we take into our lives, the ones that lead us to claim “you are mine,” is that it doesn’t depend on them (or us) being sympathetic characters.

It’s the kind of love we all hope for.


Required Reading 2012: January

Other reviews:
Forever Young Adult
Book Harbinger

Required Reading: January

So yay, it’s the new year! January is one of my favorite months of the year, mostly because of the newness and all the possibilities of a new year. Especially in reading — don’t you like it when you see your read shelf for the year still zero and you wonder up to what number you can get to by December 31 this year? :) I know I do.

And because I had so much fun with this last year (and it really helped me knock off books from my TBR), I am going to have a go at this again. Hello Required Reading 2012! :)

Required Reading is a reading challenge that is really about getting some books off the Mt. TBR. Just as the name of the challenge meant, Required Reading is about choosing some books that must be read within the month. It doesn’t have to be the only books you read in a month, but they should be read (or at least, started) before the said month ends.

I had some rules on this last year that really applied to me, but in case other people want to join me, here are the rules:

  • Books chosen for the challenge should be in the current TBR pile as of the month of the Required Reading post. So if you decided to join at March, the books you choose for the month should be in your TBR pile as of February.
  • Galleys and ARCs can be included.
  • Posting reviews aren’t necessary (but don’t you want that out of the way, too?).
  • I’ll be posting a theme every month but you don’t have to follow that. You can choose a theme for yourself if you want to — what’s important is the books that you put there are books that you want to get to reading.
  • And since this is a TBR reducing challenge, it would be very ideal if the books you choose aren’t a part of any other challenge. Just so you can read more. But seeing as I bent this rule so many times last year, you can bend it too. :)
  • Lastly: have fun. If you don’t finish a book, it’s okay! If you finish it, then…feel free to reward yourself with something. :)

I’ll be posting a linky every month of a Required Reading post so you can leave a link to your Required Reading post there. (Not that there’s a lot of people who joined this last year…but you never know :D)

Now we are on for January. :)

Required Reading 2012: January

I love the end and the start of the year because there are so many books that I end up putting on my wish list after everyone starts making their best-of lists. Of course, that doesn’t really bode well for my book budget. :P It also makes me feel like I should READ. ALL. BOOKS., at least the ones they listed as very good that are in my TBR.

So for January, my required reading list will contain the books that I noticed were in a lot of best-of-2011 book lists among my blogger friends. Let’s call this Best-Of Catch Up. :)

  • Saving June by Hannah Harrington – “Saving June has everything that I look for in my contemporary reads…” (Chachic’s Book Nook)
  • Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park – “Loved it. You know those books where you’re excited to tell the world about? I think this is one of them.  The more I think about Flat-Out Love the more I feel this “I need to pimp this book” feeling.” (Janicu’s Book Blog)
  • How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr – “From the assured writing to the authentic characters, How To Save A Life is a book that will both pluck at your heart strings and make you grin to lasting effect.” (Book Harbinger)

Oh look, all of them are contemporary books! Since I know I will probably end up going through these in a flash, I am adding two more books to the list:

So…that’s a sizable book list, don’t you think? I’ve started on one and already more than halfway on another, so at least I’ve started. :)

In My Mailbox (20): Where did all these books come from?

This is me catching up on a couple of weeks of In My Mailbox posts again. It’s always more fun to post when you have more books to post about, right? :) Plus, I was out of town last weekend and I was just too exhausted to take photos and come up with an IMM post. Anyway, so many books in the past weeks — even I am surprised at my stash. Look:


So, what did we get in the past few weeks?

I attended the launch of the fourth (and much-awaited!) Trese graphic novel at Robinsons Bestsellers two weeks ago. I’m not really a graphic novel person, but I loved Trese and I’ve been waiting for the fourth book ever since I finished all three a few months ago. :) The event was a success if you were to judge only with the number of people who attended (dress code was black, apparently :P). I do think it was an overall success because not only was it a full-house event, but also we got our books signed. :)

Continue Reading →

On Pre-ordering

So just last week, I realized that I have some 10% discount voucher from Book Depository for their summer sale. I felt bad for not using it, so even if I know there isn’t really anything I want to read now now now, I figure I could use it for pre-orders.

I'm starting to like seeing these buttons. :)

You know I never really thought I’d be pre-ordering any book when I started buying books with my own money. I’ve always seen things like, “Pre-order this from Amazon” and all that, but since shipping is so expensive here, I can never do the pre-order thing. The shipping alone would be more expensive than the book and it’s just not worth it. When Book Depository started shipping here for free, I still didn’t pre-order, thinking I can still wait for local bookstores to get it when it’s out.

Then I remember buying A Monster Calls from Book Depository last April as a prize for one of my birthday giveaway winners. I remember being impressed at the price of the book – less than $10 for a hardbound illustrated book. What a value, right? I decided to order it too, and was I glad I did. Now it’s a whopping $18 in Book Depository.

So now I’m all for pre-ordering books. But only for books that I really, really want. Case in point, my order last week:

Pre-order ahoy!

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins / A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner / How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr - YAY~

All books were 25% off + the 10% off from the voucher. And they’re all books that I want to read. I know it would take a while before I get them, but I’m not in a rush, anyway. I like the idea that I “have” them now, and can read it as soon as its shipped.

I do have some comments on pre-ordering, though:

  • I’m not sure about pre-ordering print books in Amazon, but I think the customer isn’t charged until the book is shipped, right? That’s one thing that makes me raise an eyebrow at Book Depository — you get charged immediately for the pre-order. I’m sure you can request a refund to cancel your order, but I think you still have to email? I don’t know, maybe it’s easier if the customer won’t have to go through that channel to cancel a pre-order.
  • And speaking of Amazon, I pre-ordered some Kindle ebooks a few months ago because there were some books that I can’t wait to have in print. However, pre-ordering Kindle ebooks doesn’t really have much perk as far as discounts are concerned because there are hardly any discounts. The only perk is…well…you get it quick.

So, have you tried pre-ordering? Do you pre-order as much as you can to get more discounts? Have you had pre-order horror stories? What’s the last book you pre-ordered, and why? Any other perks you got from pre-orders other than discounts? I want to know.

Oh and P.S. — I will pre-order John Green’s newest book soon, of course. I wouldn’t want to miss a signed book. :)

Waiting on Wednesday: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

How did I not know that Sara Zarr has a new book coming out this year? I cannot believe this. HOW?!

How to Save a Life by Sara ZarrHow to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Release date: October 18, 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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 loved all of Sara Zarr‘s novels, and I realized that I have never openly professed myself as a fan of hers. So I’m taking this time to profess: I am a fan of Sara Zarr, and I am absolutely excited for her new book. Even more than I am excited about point of care cart stuff. :)

And is it just me, or did The Fray’s song automatically play in your head when you read the title of this book? :)