how to save a life

October 2011  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

October 2011

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers


Utah Book Award Winner

ALA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2011

A School Library Journal Best Book of 2011

A Los Angeles Public Library Best Book of 2011

The Independent Best Books of the Year 2012 (UK)

Guardian Teen Book Club Selection (UK)

The Irish Times Best Books of the Year 2012

Utah Book Award Winner

Salt Lake City Weekly Arty Award Winner



hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook, UK edition

translations: Portuguese, Lithuanian, Macedonian



Jill MacSweeney just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends—everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she’s somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.

Mandy Kalinowski understands what it’s like to grow up unwanted—to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she’s sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It’s harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?
As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy—or as difficult—as it seems.


★ “Filled with so many frustrations, so many dilemmas needing reasonable solutions, and so much hope and faith in the midst of sadness, Zarr's novel is a rich tapestry of love and survival that will resonate with even the most cynical readers."   Booklist, starred review

★ ” Zarr delivers a moving, funny, and emotionally honest story about three women whose understanding of family, and of themselves, shifts in profound ways.” – Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ “Another heavy-hitting page-turner from's a must-read.” – School Library Journal, starred review

★ “Jill's cynicism is the perfect counterpoint to Mandy's naïveté. Likewise, Many's vulnerability highlights Jill's tough independence. beautiful as it is real. A story that will resonate beyond its final page.” – Kirkus, starred review

★ “Zarr masterfully gives each girl a distinctive voice, allowing the reader to empathize with both Jill's self-destructive rage and Mandy's delusional fantasies. ...the imperfection of the characters and the uniqueness of the situations come together in a compulsively readable novel.” – VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates), starred review

“The depth of characterization is exceptional, and the ending is surprising but satisfying, making for a rewarding read." – The Horn Book

“Characterization is superlative...a compelling human drama." – The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Zarr insists that her characters will find their own complicated way; she writes life as it is, not novels of how we wish things could be and yet again the messiness of the American family is exposed for her readers to love and linger over.”Bookslut

“Recommended for: People who are looking for immaculately written contemporary YA fiction. People who are looking for their mirror image. People who love train journeys. People who like bad Mexican food and pancakes. People who would like to go on a stakeout with a tall, dark stranger..” Wear the Old Coat blog