Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

How to Save a Life

What I thought of when I saw the title: The Fray’s How to Save A Life.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is an incredibly sad thing because it’s the hallmark of neglect, parental and otherwise, sometimes leading to ‘excessive familiarity with relative strangers’ to fulfil the all-consuming need for love, attention and affection they’ve never received. Witnessing Mandy forming unhealthy attachments to people she’s just met is excruciating. Once you hear her story, you just want to pull her away from her old life and insecurities, give her a hug, take her home and take care of her and her unborn baby.

I felt for each and every one of the characters. They may not be the most likeable in the world but they’re real, complicated and going through terrible times. I understood why each acted as they did: why Jill rejected the notion of her mother adopting a baby so soon after her dad died, why Robin (Jill’s mother) wanted to do this and why she didn’t go through legal channels to do so, and why Mandy lied so she could find a loving home for her baby to grow up in, thereby preventing her from suffering the same childhood she did and growing up to be like her or her mother.

I sympathised with Jill. Struggling with her identity, redefining herself after her dad’s death and figuring out what she wants and who she wants to be is difficult enough, but then having to accept this new person into your life who’ll provide you with a baby sister, puts on even more pressure to come to terms with her grief, with her future and the need to move on, embrace life and take risks again.

It’s a deeply moving and depressing read, so much so that I was desperate for the predictable happily ever after. Thankfully, I got it. I would’ve been pretty mad if I hadn’t. A new family and a new beginning is formed from the wreckage of four lives, bringing me to tears with the emotive subject matters of abuse, grief and fear for the future and the truly deep and realistic observations in the writing, together with fact that four lives, not one or two, are saved, make this a rare and favourite read.

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