Review: How to Save a Life – Sara Zarr

Cover of How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Title: How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
Publication date: September 1, 2012
Publisher: Usborne
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-4095-4675-7
Length: 412 pages
Genre: Contemporary
Age group: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon US | Amazon UK | The Book Depository


Everyone knows how to live, be who they are, find their place. But I’m still waiting.

Jill’s life lost all meaning when her dad died. Friend, boyfriend, college – nothing matters any more. Then her mother drops a bombshell. She’s going to adopt a baby. Mandy is desperate for her life to change. Seventeen, pregnant and leaving home, she is sure of only one thing – her baby must never have a life like hers, whatever it takes.

Heart-achingly beautiful, How to Save a Life is about finding love, truth and your place in the world… all where you least expect it.

My thoughts

How to Save a Life was the first book I’ve read by Sara Zarr and I have to say, I’m really impressed.  Contemporary fiction is one of my favourite genres but at the same time, books like this can be quite tricky. Books dealing with the loss of a loved one can quite easily turn into something very cheesy and over-the-top. However, it’s definitely not the case with How to Save a Life. Not only is Zarr’s book frighteningly real, its concept is very unique and I love the message it conveys.

The book tells the story of two seventeen year-old girls with two completely different backgrounds. Mandy grew up in a single-parent family by her alcoholic mother – she dropped out of high school, never really had friends or a loving family. She’s desperately trying to get away from her old life and start it all over again, to build a better future for herself and the baby but doesn’t know how. And we have Jill, only child to a well-to-do mother, who has just lost her father in an accident and who’s been trying to go back to her old self ever since, without success. I didn’t really manage to connect to either of them at first: I found Mandy quite naive and ‘away with the fairies’, and Jill very rude and full of herself, but they both grew on me soon enough. And I loved the contrast between the two of them: the fact that apart from the baby, Mandy has nothing or no one else – not even a proper, loving family or a better future to look forward to, while Jill has a loving mum and friends she could count on and all she does is drive them away and completely alienate herself.

Going back to my original remark about contemporary fiction, where most of these books go wrong, if you ask me, is romance. Love triangles in young adult fiction seem to be the newest trend and for me, seven out of ten times they just don’t work. I get irritated by the fact that it’s all so predictable and terribly unrealistic. The thought that real life is nothing like that is constantly at the back of my mind and it keeps me from enjoying the book in question. But reading How to Save a Life was very different. It was realistic, not at all over-the-top, cheesy or even predictable, and I loved the two male characters (especially Dylan).

Whether you prefer young adult or adult fiction, I would definitely recommend that you read How to Save a Life. It’s a touching, yet optimistic and a very much realistic story about two girls with completely different backgrounds but a common aim: wanting to start over. It’s a unique novel with a beautiful message that will definitely make you think – I really enjoyed it.


“Dad would want me to be here. There’s no other explanation for my presence. Sometimes it’s like I exist – keep going to school, keep coming home, keep showing up in my life – only to prove that his confidence in me, his affection for me, weren’t mistakes. That I’m the person he always said I was. Am. That I know the right things to do and will always do them in the end, even if it takes me a while to get there and even if I fight the whole way.

5 star rating
*Many thanks to Usborne for sending me a copy of this book*


  1. Allison (Allure of Books) says

    I’m a big contemporary reader as well, but like you – love triangles turn me off in a big way. I’m glad to hear that everything works in this one, I haven’t read anything by Sara Zarr yet, but this might just be the first!
    Allison (Allure of Books) recently posted..Survive by Alex MorelMy Profile

    • says

      Exactly! It was nothing like that, though, and I was really glad about it. There is romance involved but that’s not what the book is mainly about and it’s very realistic. I hope you’ll enjoy it if you decide to pick it up! :)

  2. says

    I love reading contemporary fiction and I definitely enjoy the serious ones from time to time. Having said that, I do tire of love triangles at times.

    However, I have been eyeing How to Save a Life and I must say, reading your review has given me a push in the read-it-soon direction. Great review!

    Sana @ artsy musings of a bibliophile
    Sana @ artsy musings of a bibliophile recently posted..Cover Reveal: Perception by Lee Strauss + ExcerptMy Profile

  3. says

    I don’t think I’ve heard of this one, but the title and premise definitely sounds intriguing. Plus, you enjoyed it, so it must be good, right? :) I’m glad that HOW TO SAVE A LIFE’s romance was realistic, too. I know what you mean when contemps sometimes take the romance a little bit too far!

    Great review, Vicky! I’ll be sure to check this one out!
    Megan K. recently posted..Showcase Sunday #14My Profile

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