Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 18, 2011
Buy It! amazon
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Summary from Goodreads: Jill MacSweeney 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.
First Thoughts: What a deeply emotional book! Whether or not you’ve experienced loss, the emotions of these characters, the inner struggles they go through, are going to touch you in some way. I know it’s going to be awhile before these characters get out of my head.
In the past year, I’ve become so immersed in dystopian post-apocalyptic novels, that last week I felt like I needed a change. I needed a stand-alone realistic fiction; something I could connect to on a more contemporary level. I’ve read Zarr’s Story of a Girl, and I knew How to Save a Life was one of the Abe Lincoln books (plus, it was actually available at the library), so I figured I’d give it a try. Wow, did this book come through for me!
This book is sad, depressing, gut-wrenching and yet it’s a heartwarming story about confronting and dealing with loss. As someone who’s been lucky enough to never really experience true loss (my grandpa died when I was two, but other than that my entire family is still together), I wasn’t sure if I would connect to these characters. I was wrong. Jill’s story of losing her dad was extremely hard for me to read (not in a “this is terrible writing” way, but in a “terrifying, what would I do” way). Why didn’t her friends understand her pain? Why couldn’t ANYONE understand how much her life changed? Why did she have to move on and get over it? I honestly can’t imagine the pain Jill went through, but Zarr does a fantastic job of making the reader try. Jill’s relationship with her dad was very much like mine is with my dad, and in imagining that loss, Jill’s inner monologue is spot on. Of course, inside, she wants to connect to people: she wants to have friends to lean on, a mom to mourn with, a boyfriend to continue to love. But, on the outside, all she can do is spew anger and defiance, pushing everyone away from her. She realizes she isn’t the same person she was when her dad was alive, and she never can be; she is forever changed. What a heartbreaking realization to come to, and as a reader, your heart breaks right along with hers.
Zarr’s writing is what makes the emotional experience what it is. I’ve read many books where characters have gone through what Jill and Mandy do, but none have resonated quite like this. I’m having a hard time putting why this is into words. Maybe it’s the dual point of views that are so perfectly written that you feel like Jill and Mandy really wrote these sections themselves. Maybe it’s how Zarr shows you the pain and struggles these girls are going through rather than just telling you. Maybe it’s just that her beautiful writing - word choice, sentence variety, flow - make the words seem almost real.
Final Thoughts: I’m still not quite sure what it is about this book, but it’s going to stick with me for a long time. The questions it’s made me ask, the scenarios it’s made me imagine - those are experiences I will not soon forget. If you’re looking for a book to connect with on an emotional level, this is it!
Who Should Read It? If you’ve experienced loss, I think this book will connect to you in a way that can help affirm the emotions you’ve felt or are feeling; it may actually be a healing experience. Even if you haven’t experienced something on the level of these characters, I still recommend this to fans of realistic fiction. I do think it leans more towards females, as both main characters are girls. This will be a top recommendation of mine next school year.