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How to Save a Life
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How to Save a Life

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  10,112 ratings  ·  1,428 reviews
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 un...more
Hardcover, 341 pages
Published October 18th 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (first published January 1st 2011)
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14th out of 51 books — 269 voters
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Community Reviews

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i have no idea why i decided to read this book. it is not in my usual range of interests at all. i know i saw a number of positive reviews go past on this here website, but realistic YA is not usually my bag. i like my YA to take place in rubble-filled urban wastelands or in forests where threats take the form of monsters or other horrific desperations. i like my problems to be things i will never have to actually deal with. it soothes me. "run for your lives, kiddies!," i shout through a mouthf...more
As seen on The Readventurer

Frankly, I was taken aback by the synopsis of Sara Zarr's new novel when I first read it. Told from the perspectives of 2 teen girls - Mandy, who is pregnant and is considering to give up her baby for adoption, and Jill, the only daughter of a recently widowed woman who wants to take in Mandy's child - it felt just too cheaply 16 and Pregnant to me. Plus there are some themes in YA that I absolutely have no interest in reading about - teen pregnancy is right there, at...more
Meg ♥
Mar 08, 2012 Meg ♥ rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Meg ♥ by: Shellie Brewer

Thank you to my good friend, Shellie, here on GR for sending me this book with a high recommendation. P.S. I love the cover of this book!

Being my first book from Sara Zarr I came into this book with no expectations. I don't read a lot of teen dramas, but this book has lots of good reviews so I wanted to read it. Zarr's writing reminds me of Kristin Hannah for YA. I realize I seem to be in the minority here, but to me this book was simply okay.

Jill is grieving her father that died. They were very...more
Sep 16, 2011 Catie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Catie by: Tatiana
4 1/2 stars

Reading Sara Zarr reminds me of that old Hemingway quote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Boy does she know how to do that. Only, she translates every emotion with such stark, raw purity that it feels like I am the one bleeding. Maybe not everyone has been a pregnant teenager with a dreadful home life or a hostile, sarcastic girl who’s just lost her closest support, but I think that it would be hard for anyone not to find something to r...more
Emily May
Mar 30, 2012 Emily May rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Emily May by: Tatiana

My thoughts on How to Save a Life remind me a lot of the way I felt about Please Ignore Vera Dietz. In fact, there's one thing I can pretty much quote directly from the review I wrote, about how there are two subjects in young adult books that would normally make me run a mile:

a) teen pregnancy, and
b) coping with the death of a loved one

Both of them are just so overdone, annoying and melodramatic that I find it quite amazing that this novel can march onto the literary scene with its two perspec...more

Some stories feel thinner than the paper they’re printed on. Without disrespect to the work that goes into crafting a novel, sometimes reading certain books can feel like nothing more than following words across paper. A perfunctory effort for a temporary experience - there’s nothing really holding me to the story.

Then there are stories that make me forget I’m reading, that draw me in beyond the paper and ink and binding. Stories that I both absorb and am absorbed into - an experience that feels...more
“And here I am, all of those small hopes getting me from one day to the next, the way they my whole life.”

Initial Final Page Thoughts.
Wow. Captivating.

High Point.
The ladies. The gentlemen. Train stations. Raw. Emotional. Coffee. Pancakes. Pho. Old friends. New friends. Moving on. Siblings. Cornfields, Ferris wheels and stars.

Low Point.
This isn’t really a low point but I couldn’t really think of one so I’m clutching right now. The ending was a little predictable but I think I would have been a...more
Reasons I chose to read this book.

1. I like the song.
2. I liked the cover.
3. Favorable reviews on GRs.
4. Free download from the library.

But I would not have chosen to read the book solely on the synopsis of this book. Reading about pregnant teens is not my firs choice. So imagine my surprise at how much I loved this book. The story is told in dual perspectives.

Jill MacSweeney was once an outgoing girl with lots of friends and a boyfriend, Dillon. She turns inward, and pushes her friends, Dillon...more
I cried. As someone who is frequently teased for never having cried during "The Notebook" or "The Titanic" and rather well-known for my ice-cold heart, this admission carries quite a bit of weight. How to Save a Life is a novel that hasn't gone unnoticed by readers, but I remained skeptical about reading it myself. Frankly speaking, I find little allure in novels about teenage pregnancy, let alone when paired alongside with grief. After reading - and absolutely loving - Small Damages earlier thi...more
In a word? Real.

Through the perspectives of two teen girls, HOW TO SAVE A LIFE explores two extremely intense, emotional, and dramatic experiences — the sudden death of a parent and an unplanned teen pregnancy (and all the complications, pain, loss, fear, love, and hope that can arise from each) — in a compelling and page-turning way that never resorts to melodrama or forced emotion. On every page, through every confrontation and thought, through the internal and external changes both girls endu...more
Oct 22, 2011 Alyssa rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Contemporary readers wanting something fresh.
Recommended to Alyssa by: Tatiana
How to Save a Life touched me in the way not many novels have. Sara Zarr, an expert in her field of YA contemporaries, crafted a unique story of family, love, independence and dependance, without alienating her readers with a story too bizarre to believe. With inspirational writing and beautiful, multidimensional characters, this novel isn't one soon to be forgotten.

The MacSweeneys lost a husband and father a year ago, and while the wife, Robin, has been doing everything she can to keep going -...more
Komal Mikaelson
My initial reaction after completing this book-

If I could, I'd give this book not only 5, but a million shining and glowing stars that would live up to what this book is really worth.

You know, how there are 2 types of books. The first type are the ones that don't leave such an impression on you. They just pass by you without marking their presence and you move on with your life with no alterations on your part.
And the second type are a whole lotta different. They run through your head hours afte...more
Lord. A book about pregnant teenagers. In my hands. Read by my eyes. How do I get myself into these things?

Starts out, I ordered the ARC (releases in 1/12) because of the cool cover. What's weird, though, is that the cover on Goodreads shows a girl on the bench to the right. My ARC shows two empty benches. < cue Twilight Zone music > I also thought the girls in my classroom might like it. On that count I'm right. They will. Even I did. How, how, how?

A tip of the hat to Sara Zarr. She took...more
I have no idea what is wrong with me. Everybody I know loves this book but I just didn't for some reason. The story was there and all the emotions but for me is just fell flat. The basic story revolves around Jill and her mom Robin who have just lost their father/husband and what happens when Robin decides to adopt a baby. Mandy is the biological mother and her story was definitely harder for me to read but again her character just didn't quite get there for me. I thought that Jill should have h...more
Literary Ames {Against GR Censorship}
What I thought of when I saw the title: The Fray's How to Save A Life.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is an incredibly sad thing because it's the hallmark of neglect, parental and otherwise, sometimes leading to 'excessive familiarity with relative strangers' to fulfil the all-consuming need for love, attention and affection they've never received. Witnessing Mandy forming unhealthy attachments to people she's just met is excruciating. Once you hear her story, you just want to pull her away from he...more
Wendy Darling
Really, really great. I'm putting all the other Sara Zarr books on my TBR immediately.
"Life is always moving forward, forward, forward. Relentless. If someone offered me a time machine right now and I could go back to before my dad died, I would, of course, if only to see if I could save him. But then I’d want to come right back here, to face the next unknown moment and the next and the next."

Actual Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Brief summary:

Jill MacSweeney's dad died and Robin, her mother, decided to adopt a baby. Robin posted an offer at the site "Love Grows" where she says that she's l...more
#1: The Fray's song "How to save a life" has been stuck in my head the entire time while reading this.... and it's very fitting.

#2: The cover makes me want to bundle up even though we are having a HOT fall day down here is Georgia (seriously, it was 80 degrees today).

#3: For whatever reason I find the cover makes me feel lonely.

#4: Thanks Crystal for sending me this one!!! (this should be #1, but I am too lazy to go back and change it)

So, this is a story told from two points of views, Mandy and...more
Original post at One More Page

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. 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...more
Feb 20, 2012 Annalisa rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Annalisa by: Leanne
I love Sara Zarr. The way she quietly weaves stories and settings and characters, always broken, ones you want to protect. Honest and raw. Shown not told. Stories you feel.

I normally don't pay much attention to titles, but this one stuck with me, and not just because I kept singing it. I thought it was perfect. All the characters caught up in their own grief and fears and Zarr set out to change them, to save them, through each other. I had an idea how it would all turn out, but I still couldn't...more
Originally posted on The Book Smugglers HERE

I’ve been sitting here staring at this blank page for over an hour unable to start this review because every time I try I either 1) get all chocked up or 2) I deem the lines I wrote unworthy of this book and delete them. Let’s try this again:

Jill and Mandy are the two narrators, as different from each other as the sun and the moon are yet both are equally suffering, struggling to find a place in the world.

Mandy is pregnant and wants a better life for h...more
Some books touch you without explaining why. How to Save a Life was one of those books for me. I suppose there is something about trudging through life’s curve balls that calls to me. As I’m sure it does to several others as well. It’s inspiring to see people pick themselves up, dust themselves off and find a new semblance of strength and happiness.

How to Save a Life isn’t the most authentic book I’ve ever read. The ending is much too happy, the characters forgive too easily, and come around all...more
I confess I’m a little in love with this story even if the characters are not that sympathetic to begin with. How to Save a Life is painful at times but definitely emotional with them finding what’s been lost and accepting, no, trusting that where they were was the right place to be. Mandy. Jill. Robin all have something to deal with, but none of them really do so. The first runs away. The second freezes everyone out. And the last seems to think a do over is best. At least this is how they all...more
After writing a review with a bajillion edits that ended up being longer than the original review itself, I thought, "Screw this, I'm just throwing it all out and starting from scratch." Which is why we're here!

This book comes highly praised from a lot of my friends, most of whom seemed to have a far deeper emotional connection to everything than I did. This is one of those books where I can't understand the meaningful connection that everyone seems to have made to the storyline and the characte...more
Greta is Erikasbuddy
Oct 25, 2011 Greta is Erikasbuddy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: moms/daughters/grandmas/best friends
This book was amazing!!

It was an emotional, heartbreaking, on the edge of my seat super roller coaster of super duper Loves!!

Have you ever read a book that you didn't want to end?


I wanted to savor every page, every word, ever punctuation mark... It was just so delicious that I could read it over and over again without feeling full.

The Plot:
Mandy is a simple 18 year old girl who is pregnant. She wants her baby to have a better life than what she has now. Going on...more
Originally published here.

Well, I knew this was going to be hard. I knew that going in. I mean, how do you go about revealing something like this? It's embarrassing is what it is. And I hate being embarrassed. But it's also the truth. So here you go--the truth in all its humiliating glory:

This is my first book by Sara Zarr.

That's right. Before I picked up How to Save a Life, I had never read a Sara Zarr book.

Cue the echoing Silence of Judgement.

Okay, before you go off all half-cocked--I know....more
I had almost forgotten how effortless and engaging and emotionally honest a good contemporary could be. Almost.
This book is made on pure win.

Whoever reads this, whether you hate everything, or love everything, read this book. It's wonderful. I don't think I've ever cried so much during one book. Hell, I was even crying when the book ended so predictably wonderful!

If you have any kind of soul, I can picture you at least somewhat enjoying this wonderful piece of literature.

Maybe not the shining, screaming 5 stars I gave it, but a 4, maybe even a 3. There are some reasons why this book, and the other nove...more
Sara Zarr is such a fabulous writer. Every time I read one of her novels I am amazed at her story telling abilities. She can take a story that sounds so cliche and make it into something powerful and moving. She can take characters that I abhor and found annoying and make me care for them and their fictional existence.

I’ll admit. I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book. As much as I love Sara Zarr…. pregnant girl, recently deceased father. The whole thing sounded like an after school speci...more
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Overall Book Review 1 1 Oct 14, 2014 01:03PM  
YA Buddy Readers'...: How To Save A Life by Sara Zarr - Restarting November 2nd 2014 81 81 Oct 03, 2014 02:27AM  
Favorite quote 4 56 Apr 26, 2014 10:10PM  
What's The Name o...: main character's name is Mandy [s] 7 44 Apr 24, 2014 06:51PM  
Crazy for Young A...: December 2012: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr 5 54 Dec 27, 2012 05:13AM  
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Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of four novels for young adults: Story of a Girl (National Book Award Finalist), Sweethearts (Cybil Award Finalist), Once Was Lost (a Kirkus Best Book of 2009) and How to Save a Life. Her short fiction and essays have also appeared in Image, Hunger Mountain, and several anthologies. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, and online at
More about Sara Zarr...
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“No one measures a life in weeks and days. You measure life in years and by the things that happen to you.” 61 likes
“I'm still going to love you, always. And in the rock-paper-scissors of life, love is rock. fear, anger, everthing contest.” 42 likes
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