Monday, April 23, 2012

How To Save A Life by Sara Zarr

How would you grieve the loss of a very close parent?  Or deal with an unplanned pregnancy?  Would you find a way to mend broken relationships?  These are several issues out of many that are raised in Sara Zarr’s novel, How To Save A Life.

Jill and Mandy are two teenage girls thrust quickly into adulthood and then into each others’ lives because of major life events.  Jill’s father, of whom she was closer to than her mother, dies in a car accident.  Mandy, in love for the first time, becomes pregnant and because of her home life, knows she can’t raise her child.  Jill’s mother decides she wants to adopt a baby and that is how Mandy becomes a part of their lives.  Along the way, both girls go through a coming of age process, learning how to grieve, how to cope with sexual abuse, how to trust in others, how to know what love is really about, and how to express pieces of who they really are and not what others want them to be. 

The novel brings up many challenges that teenagers might encounter and shows the emotions involved when the unexpected happens to young adults.  A great strength of the book is that it questions readers as to how they feel the characters are acting in certain situations, or if they might react differently, and why.  The novel is told from both character’s perspectives, and it is interesting to see the different ways that these teenagers think when they are both recounting the same experience, and also when they are dealing with issues unrelated to the other’s experiences. 

The themes in the novel would resonate with both girls and boys, such as how to support friends who are experiencing the loss of a loved one or how to know if a romantic relationship should continue, but I do think the novel would likely appeal more to girls than boys.  The novel would also probably be more appropriate on a summer reading list for upperclassmen or if students have to read books of their own choosing for a class (or just for their own pleasure) because it might be hard to get boys engaged in what I believe to be a more female geared book.  If taught in the classroom, it would be very interesting to dissect how the males in the room view the same issues and decisions the main characters make, and if they agree with the viewpoints of the male characters in their book and their reactions to various scenarios that happen.  

All in all, this would be an excellent choice for young adults to read to challenge their thoughts on what they would do if put in the same, unexpected situations the main characters face and to get them thinking about how the decisions they make help define who they are and have them realize that sometimes, very quickly, they might have to grow up sooner than they thought.  


David Morrison said...


Your review made me start to consider how it would be a good exercise in perspective and persuasive arguments to have each "side" (gender) of the class look a situation a different way. I did a similar exercise with Jane Eyre, trying to refute the notion that Rochester was simply a jerk. I argued that he was victimized by previous relationships which caused him to raise defenses. Those defenses were necessary for his mental safety, but they ended up hurting Jane. Do you think this book would be able to be used in that way?

Do you feel the themes in this novel are definitely thought-provoking? or do they come across as merely an after-school special? If it's the latter, my fear is that upperclassmen will easily dismiss it. That's why I think a book like Looking for Alaska is so powerful because the messages aren't so clear.

Tom Philion said...

Hey David--Story of a Girl is a wonderful book by Sara Zarr that I have used previously in this course. Her writing is sharp and critical but also compelling--a great example of combining the interests of popular audiences and situations with fine writing and critical questioning. So. I would guess from Nicole's review that this book is worth looking into, too.

not the same quality as Green's writing, but maybe a bit more like Myers and Wolff.

Nicole--great review, really enjoyed the links and flow and fine writing.