How to Save a Life

Recently named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2011, How To Save a Life is a young adult novel that invites - and deserves - a wide readership. Whether you’re a teen or an adult, you’ll find a lot to like in this insightful, big-hearted novel about a grieving family struggling to move forward and a pregnant teenager who makes a desperate gamble.

Since 17-year-old Jill’s father died the previous year, she’s felt like a stranger to herself. She’s distant from her friends and family, describing herself and her mother as “twin planets orbiting the same universe of grief but never quite making contact.” When Jill’s mother, Robin, announces that she’s planning to adopt a baby, Jill can’t see it as anything other than a colossally bad idea and a crass attempt to replace her father.

When Mandy boards a train to Denver, she’s running away from an abusive home life, and a world where she spends every minute of every day knowing she doesn’t matter. Seven months pregnant, all she knows is that she wants her baby to grow up in a home filled with love. Mandy knows she’s taking a chance on Robin - she’s in her 50s, she’s just lost her husband, her teenage daughter isn’t on board with the adoption. But Robin knows she’s taking a chance on Mandy, too, who insisted up front that there be no lawyers, no social workers, no paperwork.

Zarr writes from the alternating perspectives of Jill and Mandy, and explores their internal lives and motivations with heartbreaking depth and sensitivity. Better have a tissue handy, because this is what Zarr does best. If human emotion was an M16, Sara Zarr could take it apart, clean it, and put it back together in less than 60 seconds, blindfolded.

Since her debut with 2007’s National Book Award finalist Story of a Girl, Zarr’s work has received loud and enthusiastic acclaim. How To Save a Life is her best work yet, complex, hopeful, and beautifully realistic. Its characters and their story will stay with you long after the final page.