Great young adult contemporary novels deal with complex issues and emotions. It’s a great writer that can cause readers to truly think about the message of their stories and the significant issues that teens deal with.
Sara Zarr’s latest novel, “How to Save a Life,” takes on teen pregnancy from two perspectives: the teenage mother and the teenage daughter whose mother will be adopting the baby. Both teens have different issues that they are handling in vastly different ways.
Zarr had originally planned to tell the story through only one character’s perspective — Jill, the daughter of the adoptive mother. However, as the story progressed, Zarr realized that there was another story that needed to be told.
“As soon as I finished the opening chapter, I realized that I really wanted to get onto that train with Mandy (the teenage mother),” Zarr said. “What must she be thinking? Is she nervous? Who is this girl that's going to come and change Jill and her mother's lives forever?”
Though Zarr didn’t draw from actual personal experience when dealing with some of the subject matter in “How to Save a Life,” there are many qualities in her characters that she can identify with.
“I think that, like Jill, I've often dealt with a resistance to the idea of ‘yes’ in my life,” said Zarr. “There's a fear that everything that seems good will turn bad, or if it's actually good it will be taken away, or change is doom, and the safest thing is to only rely on myself rather than get mixed up with people who might make life messy or painful. And that's a kind of a death, I think, a loss, that habit of being more a person of "no." Robin, Jill's mom, is so full of "yes," and both Jill and Mandy want to believe in it, too.”
When writing her novels, Zarr doesn’t think about sending a message or saying something to a reader.
“My first job is to write the characters as full and authentic people as well as I can. And, I hope, that my world view comes through, too,” Zarr said. “It's a view that's hopeful. That life is worth doing thoughtfully and as joyfully as possible, and human connections are worth having, even when they are far from perfect.”
And it seems that each character in “How to Save a Life” is craving a human connection through family. Zarr acknowledges that family is important in all her books, but especially so in her most recent novel.
“This story deals with (family) in more obvious ways,” Zarr said. “I hope readers will connect with these three women who are each fighting their own battle to hold onto faith that, even in the face of their individual tragedies, there is still hope to be had, joy to be found. That life isn't just filling the days. And they don't have to do it alone.”
The launch party for Zarr's "How to Save a Live" is Oct. 20 7 p.m. at the King's English Bookshop and she will at a book signing Oct. 22 1 p.m. at the Costco at 1818 S. 300 West, Salt Lake City.
Emily Ellsworth is a blogger at Emily's Reading Room online at emilysreadingroom.com, which is a blog dedicated to promoting a love of young adult fiction.