Two narrators.

Both are teenagers, and both are hurting.

But Jill and Mandy come from different worlds. Mandy’s spent her life with a mom who drinks too much and always seems to end up with the wrong man. Now, Mandy is pregnant, has dropped out of school, and looks to a woman she met online to adopt and save her baby from that same kind of life.

That woman is Jill’s mom, recently widowed and looking to prove there’s still hope, still love in the world. Jill hasn’t been the same since her father died. She’s shut out her best friends and alienated her boyfriend, and when Mandy shows up to move in as she waits for her baby to be born…the baby that’s going to be part of Jill’s family soon…well, it’s all just too much.

But sometimes, “too much” turns out to be just what we need. And this is a story about two girls who need each other, even though they can’t find much common ground at first.

I’m a big fan of Sara Zarr’s work, so truth be told…I read this book very, very slowly. I didn’t want my time with these characters to end. Sara Zarr is one of two YA authors (the other is Jo Knowles) whose books I can never read without thinking, “How does she DO that? How can those characters be so, so real?” And HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is no exception. The teens feel like kids I’ve taught in middle school…like I might run into them at the mall or coffee shop. And I’d like that. Though I loved the ending of this book – really, truly loved it – I was sad when I turned the last page and had to say goodbye to Mandy and Jill.

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is beautiful and honest and real. Highly recommended for older middle school (maybe 8th grade and up?) & high school readers who are fans of contemporary fiction.

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