Thursday, January 19, 2012

How To Save A Life, by Sara Zarr

After her father died, Jill isolated herself from her friends. She grew distant from her boyfriend Dylan and cut herself off from her friends. It was too hard to deal with their pity.

Her mother became a complete stranger to her. All the more so now, when Mom's got it in her head to adopt a baby -- one of the craziest ideas that Jill has ever heard of. But Mom is persistent and not only moves ahead with the adoption, but invites the birth mother to their home for the final weeks of her pregnancy.

Mandy (the birth mother) is on the run, escaping a hellish home life of being an unwanted child with an unwanted child of her own. She hopes that somehow she can make a new life for herself and also find the decent home for her child that she never had. All she needs to do is behave and live up to the expectations of Jill and her mother. As she has learned in the past, love is always conditional and it is only a matter of time before any good thing will run out.

In alternating chapters, Jill and Mandy describe how two people from very different backgrounds can come to understand each other. They discover along the way that they are not really all that dissimilar, once you strip away their different socioeconomic backgrounds and personal histories.

It's a complicated story (combining parental death, grief, teenage pregnancy, abuse, a romantic triangle, child-parent communication, and class conflict), but generally it works. Given so many themes, there's plenty of unfinished business here. The ending itself is entirely too convenient and pap, but the ride is smooth and generally worked. At times, the two narrators sound entirely too wise for their years, but they are interesting and sympathetic (although I found myself drawn much more strongly to Mandy as she is decidedly less whiny than Jill). I call it a mixed bag -- a decent story, but nothing outstanding.

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