Thursday, August 16, 2012

Happiness is...a good book (Summer Reading edition #39)

How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
Published: 2011
Pages: 341
Age Range: 12+
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG-13

First Sentence:I am writing in response to your Love Grows post from Christmas Day.

Jill's father was killed in a car accident and part of her died with him. Unable to truly move on her relationship with her mother is fractured, she's pushed her friends away, she's on the outs with her boyfriend and to top it all off her mother has decided to adopt a stranger’s baby. Jill thinks this is the most ridiculous idea she's ever heard and is even more convinced when Mandy, the teenaged mother, arrives. She's spacey and strange and doesn't seem to be telling the truth about much and Jill is sure her mother is going to get hurt again. But Mandy has a few reservations of her own and while the two don't get along they end up helping each other to figure out life.

The two girls are vastly different, each dealing with their own set of world-shaking experiences and coming to them with their individual sets of wisdom and understanding (as well as wonderings, questions and confusions.) Mandy has spent her life basically unloved in a broken household, surviving on the skewed advice from her often-missing mother. She has some street smarts but very twisted ways of coping. While Jill’s life has been filled with love and support in many ways she’s been very sheltered and only recently has been forced to face some of the hardships of life. Told through their alternating perspectives, I loved watching each of them grow and come into their own both on their own and together. Here’s a sample:

Jill’s voice-
Despite all the love lectures and even though I just said it to Dylan, sometimes I’m not sure I know what it really means to say “I love you.” These days with Dylan—when we’re together—it’s more friendly and cozy than romantic and exciting, but it still soothes me. Isn’t that more caring about myself, though, than loving him? Shouldn’t love have at least a little to do with the other person, separate from yourself? But how can you see anything or anyone in the world apart from yourself? I mean, everything we experience is subjective, since we have no way of experiencing It other than through our eyes. And I get to thinking that love is just a word we use to describe what boils down to a selfish and temporary state of happiness. (91)

Mandy’s voice-
I didn’t yell back at my mother. When I’m angry or scared or upset, I don’t yell. I stay quiet. I’ve seen how she is, how she would get with Kent and with me and with other people, like if someone at the pharmacy got in the wrong line or asked too long a question, or if someone on the bus accidentally bumped her. I’ve watched her my whole life, the way people react to her. It doesn’t actually help you get what you want, yelling and being like that. It only makes people think bad of you.
Sometimes it’s more powerful to say nothing and keep still.

Zarr is one of those authors who has developed a sort of cult following and has been the darling of many awards and ‘favorite’ lists. I’ve read one of her other books and it just failed to impress me. It wasn’t anything I was sorry I read, but it didn’t reach out and amaze me like it did so many others. I don’t know that this one would make it onto any of my top reads but I found myself relating to both of the characters in various ways and getting equally caught up in their sagas. There are some hard concepts—rape, abuse, death, teen pregnancy, family dynamics, relationships and love—discussed, but done without feeling overly heavy or preachy which is often difficult to do. I could definitely understand Zarr’s appeal after reading this story.

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