Young adult novelist Sara Zarr is no stranger to the genre, with three award-winning books to her name (Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, and Once Was Lost, which Her.meneutics contributor Laura Leonard reviewed last spring). Her latest book, How to Save a Life (Little, Brown, 2011), received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and landed on its "Best of 2011" list.
How to Save a Life is the story of several lives that need saving: 18-year-old Mandy Kalinowski is pregnant and has been sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend. Robin MacSweeney, who was unexpectedly widowed 10 months before, is adopting Mandy's baby. Jill, Robin's daughter, isn't sure how to define herself or fit into the world now that her father, one of her best friends, is gone. And, of course, there's Mandy's baby.
The story opens with an exchange between Mandy and Robin, setting up an undocumented adoption. As Mandy moves in with Robin for the final weeks of her pregnancy, Jill must come to terms with the stranger living in her house and rekindle relationships she cut off after her father died. The story comes across as a heartfelt, sincere approach to young grief and love as Mandy and Jill both learn to move past despair.
Zarr lives in Salt Lake City with her husband, Gordon, a teacher. She enjoys Flannery O'Connor's book of essays, Mystery and Manners, and used O'Connor's short story title, "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," as the epigraph for How To Save a Life.
"She's a writer that all the popular people in Christian arts and faith circles talk about all the time," Zarr said. "I tried reading Wise Blood two years ago, and I need someone to explain it to me. ...1
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