Reviews for How to Save a Life


Booklist Reviews 2011 November #1
*Starred Review* When high-school-senior Jill MacSweeney learns that her widowed mother has agreed to an open adoption--no lawyers, no agencies, no background checks, no binding agreements--she is appalled and even more grief-stricken. Of course, her mom is lonely, but you can't just replace your husband--her dad--with a baby! To make matters worse, the baby's mother, Mandy, will live with Jill and her mother in the last month of her pregnancy. Told in the alternating voices of Jill and Mandy, this multilayered, complex story of life, death, and the meaning of family will simultaneously distress and gratify. The characters are achingly human. Jill, bewildered at the unexpected death of her father, has shut out her friends completely. Her mother, so ready to nurture and care for another, finds herself unable to cross the barrier of silence and grief Jill has constructed. Mandy needs a mother, not a baby, and cannot bear the thought of giving up this suddenly secure life that she has happened upon--a life her new baby will enjoy without her. Filled with so many frustrations, so many dilemmas needing reasonable solutions, and so much hope and faith in the midst of sadness, Zarr's novel is a rich tapestry of love and survival that will resonate with even the most cynical readers. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Spring
Pregnant eighteen-year-old Mandy agrees to live in the home of the woman, Robin, who is adopting her baby. Robin's daughter Jill hates the idea, still grieving her father s death. Mandy and Jill's distinct voices tell their intertwined stories. The girls' growth is made realistic through small inroads and slow progress. The depth of characterization is exceptional in this rewarding read.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2012 #1
Zarr places two very different young women at a difficult and crucial moment in each of their lives and takes each through a poignant and credible transformation. Thirty-three weeks pregnant and lacking support of any kind, eighteen-year-old Mandy agrees to give up her baby for adoption to Robin, a financially secure woman she meets online, and to live in Robin's home until the baby is born. Robin's teenage daughter Jill hates the idea; still deeply grieving the loss of her father less than a year before, Jill thinks her mother is trying to replace him with the new baby. Mandy and Jill's distinct voices tell their intertwined stories, revealing some unlikable traits for each and, eventually, the better person within. Socially awkward and naive, Mandy often makes others uncomfortable. Desperately hopeful, she tells lies she thinks are necessary to give her child the love and security she's never had. Jill's appearance -- black hair, black eyeliner, piercings -- reflects the emotional shell she's cultivated since her beloved father's death. Having pushed away her friends, boyfriend, and mother, Jill turns her bitchy behavior and suspicion on Mandy from the minute she moves in. The girls' growth is made realistic through small inroads and slow progress toward trust and rebuilding. The depth of characterization is exceptional, and the ending is surprising but satisfying, making for a rewarding read. lauren adams

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Kirkus Reviews 2011 November #1
Still reeling from the death of her father, 17-year-old Jill resents her mother's plan to adopt a new baby. When soon-to-be birth mother Mandy arrives, she brings with her more than any of them imagined. Struggling with the loss of her like-minded father, guilt over her failings as a daughter and her heart, which she fears is permanently sealed, Jill is determined to dislike Mandy. Her resentment, fueled by inconsistencies in the young mother's story, drives her to find an investigator. When a startling phone call exposes Mandy's darkest secrets, Jill finds herself more confused than ever. Mandy, who knows firsthand what it is like to grow up unwanted and unloved, is determined to find a better life for her baby. But what if, in the meantime, she can find a better life for herself? Told from the perspectives of both Jill and Mandy in alternating chapters, this moving story explores love, loss and whether a family can be more than the sum of its parts. Jill's cynicism is the perfect counterpart to Mandy's hopeful naiveté. Likewise, Mandy's vulnerability highlights Jill's tough independence. Woven together from two simple threads, the resulting tapestry is as beautiful as it is real. A story that will resonate beyond its final page. (Fiction. 12 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 October #4

Seventeen-year-old Jill was dealt a shattering blow when her father died unexpectedly. Since then, Jill and her mother have been distant, like "twin planets orbiting the same universe of grief but never quite making contact." Now her mother plans to fill the void by adopting a baby. As far as Jill is concerned, the plan is "lunatic," but Mandy, the pregnant teen giving up her child, is relieved. She thinks she's finally found a way to escape her emotionally abusive mother and her mother's sexually abusive boyfriend by coming to live with Jill and her mother during the final weeks of her pregnancy. Alternating between the perspectives of Jill and Mandy, National Book Award- finalist Zarr (Story of a Girl) crafts intimate and authentic portraits of two vulnerable teens struggling to cope with uncertain futures. Independent and aggressive, Jill has little in common with Mandy, who's sheltered yet very observant, but they form a sisterly bond as they face personal crises. Their slow, cautious efforts to build trust and better understand the meaning of family are expressed with the deepest compassion and kindness. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2011 December

Gr 8 Up--High school senior Jill is grieving the death of her beloved father. She's distanced herself from her friends and long-term boyfriend, and her relationship with her mother, Robin, is strained at best. Things get even more complicated when Robin announces that she plans to adopt a baby, and that the baby's teenage mother, Mandy, is going to live with them until the delivery. Jill can't understand why her mother would make this choice, especially when Mandy turns out to be secretive, amazingly naive, and, in Jill's mind, suspicious. Told from alternating perspectives, the teens' compelling stories unfold with heart-wrenching angst. Jill is terribly unkind to Mandy, whose obvious reluctance to talk about her past doesn't help matters. Mandy guards not one secret, but many, all of which may jeopardize her relationship with Robin and therefore the future of her child. As Jill comes to terms with the abrupt and shocking changes her family has undergone, and Mandy grapples with shifting emotions toward the baby she's carrying, the girls somehow find an intersection at which they can begin to understand the other's experience. Another heavy-hitting page-turner from Zarr, this book will appeal to middle and high school girls across the board. For fans of Jacqueline Woodson's The Dear One (Delacorte, 1991) and Jessica Warman's Where the Truth Lies (Walker, 2010), it's a must-read.--Nora G. Murphy, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, La Canada-Flintridge, CA

[Page 136]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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