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Wild Awake
Hilary T. Smith
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Bryan Peterson

How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life - Some stories feel thinner than the paper they’re printed on. Without disrespect to the work that goes into crafting a novel, sometimes reading certain books can feel like nothing more than following words across paper. A perfunctory effort for a temporary experience - there’s nothing really holding me to the story. Then there are stories that make me forget I’m reading, that draw me in beyond the paper and ink and binding. Stories that I both absorb and am absorbed into - an experience that feels strangely symbiotic and completely organic. [b:How To Save A Life|10757806|How to Save a Life|Sara Zarr|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41JykDK5LOL._SL75_.jpg|14982110] felt like that for me. It’s the quietness of Sara Zarr’s writing that completely undoes me. There’s a quality of stillness about it that lends her stories a kind of gravity. The language is clear and uncluttered, yet sometimes devastating in its emotional honesty. Zarr writes about the kind of things that feel almost seismic to us internally, while making barely a ripple in the world at large. She builds stories around relatable sentiments and all too common events – lives fragmented by pain, grief, abuse, and held together with fragile threads of hope and redemption. There is something very sincere about the undemonstrative way Zarr crafts raw, poignant moments in her prose – and while you don’t always notice the impact at the time, it emerges like a bruise once the book is closed. The themes are universal, but the execution feels deeply personal and heartfelt. [b:How To Save A Life|10757806|How to Save a Life|Sara Zarr|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41JykDK5LOL._SL75_.jpg|14982110] weaves together the dual narration of Jill, grieving for her father, and Mandy, a pregnant teen seeking a better life for her unborn child. Their lives converge when Jill’s mother makes the decision to adopt a child – with life changing repercussions for all involved.Both voices are exceptionally well-realised, essential for such a character-driven story. And while there is some crossover of events between the perspectives, they remain distinct and true to each character.Jill and Mandy’s respective style and tone of narration are indicative of the type of people they are, often revealing more through implication than explicit “telling”. In this sense, both Jill and Mandy felt very real, and I cared about them and their situations. Even at Jill’s most thorny and closed off, her most deliberate slamming of figurative doors in the face of those who would reach out to her in her grief, I felt for her. Even at Mandy’s most conflicted and (seemingly) obtuse, my heart ached for her and I wanted her to find the love and life she deserved. The supporting characters, Robin, Dylan, Ravi, even Jill’s father Mac, also felt carefully crafted and had real presence in the story. I appreciated the way of that each of the characters were important in their own right, and not merely tokens or props for the plot. Despite their smaller roles, particularly in the case of Dylan and Ravi, they gave a certain richness to the texture of Jill and Mandy’s story, another layer of context to the bittersweet blend of pain and hope. The plot and pacing of the story are largely propelled by the conflicts of the various characters, both internally and with each other. Interestingly, for a book that’s not totally plot-driven, I didn’t want to put it down. The character’s motivations and interactions with each other were so compelling that I carried the book around with me, torn between wanting to inhale it and wanting to savour it. (And also out of fear that Zarr was going to shatter me at the end. I won’t say if that happened or not). I haven’t provided much of a synopsis of the plot – and while its obviously fundamental to the overall tone of the book – I feel that the true strength of [b:How To Save A Life|10757806|How to Save a Life|Sara Zarr|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41JykDK5LOL._SL75_.jpg|14982110] lies with the characters, and the sheer emotion they evoke while reading. I’m awed by Sara Zarr’s beautiful and subtle way with words, with the quietly powerful story she has written. This was a book I won’t forget.