How To Save A Life is Sara Zarr’s first UK release and was a highly anticipated read for me from the moment an author whose writing I really love, Tanya Byrne, mentioned how much she enjoyed Zarr’s writing. When the lovely Amy at Usborne offered me a proof copy, I was desperate to read it and started it as soon as it arrived.
How To Save A Life is told through two narrators. Jill, whose dad recently died and now her mum suddenly wants to adopt a baby, and Mandy, a pregnant teenager who is desperate for her baby to have a better life. When Mandy comes to stay with Jill’s family before they adopt her baby, both characters’ lives collide with one another.
Multiple perspectives can be very difficult to read and write, as someone playing with that device in their writing now, I can definitely attest to this. You have to balance both characters’ stories and sustain the same tension and atmosphere when you switch perspectives. Zarr uses this device wonderfully and being able to read both Jill and Mandy’s story really enhances your understanding of the novel as the reader and doesn’t feel unnecessary.
For me, Jill was a very easy character to read and seemed very true to life and real. Grieving for the tragic and untimely death of her father, you can understand her reticence in wanting her mum to replace her dad with a new, shiny baby. I really liked how the friendship between her and Ravi, a new security guard at the bookstore she worked in and former school peer, developed in the book and the scenes with both of them were among the highlights of the novel, particularly when investigating Mandy. Jill’s conflict with her mother and her unusual decision was beautifully juxtaposed with her desire to protect her mum from being potentially hurt by Mandy.
Mandy herself was a character that could have become very stereotyped and clichéd, but Zarr made her personality and original characteristics shine through. Her backstory was really powerfully written and very emotional to read and her naiveté shone through, as I felt she was very naïve around guys.
The ending was somewhat unexpected but fabulous. If I’m honest, the very last chapter with Mandy was one I was a little dubious of but I did really like how Zarr left her characters at the ending. It is a truly heart-warming read I highly recommend.
Overall, this is a wonderful addition to the genre and I hope the first of many more of Zarr’s novels coming to the UK! Fans of YA contemporary will find a lot to adore in How To Save A Life. I received a free proof copy from Usborne for reviewing purposes. The above review is my honest opinion. How To Save A Life is out now!