Utah Book Month Versus: Story of a Girl vs. How To Save a Life

Utah Book Month Versus: Story of a Girl vs. How To Save a Life

Versus is a feature in which two books face off. Anything goes in the judging, but only one can be the winner.

Welcome to today’s special Utah Book Month edition of Versus. Two books by Utah author Sara Zarr battle it out.

In the three years since her father caught her in the back seat of a car with an older boy, sixteen-year-old Deanna’s life at home and school has been a nightmare, but while dreaming of escaping with her brother and his family, she discovers the power of forgiveness.

I read Story of a Girl first. I read it in a day. I liked it. And, going into the contest, this book definitely had the edge, as it was a National Book Award Finalist. But, for some reason, while I sympathized with Deanna, I couldn’t really relate to her. I think that is largely a me thing, though. I did love the theme of forgiveness and redemption in an imperfect world. (Having now read all four of Zarr’s published works, this theme threads through them all.) The writing is top notch. Zarr does young adult fiction in the most realistic way.

Story of a Girl, by Sara Zarr [rating:4]

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.

I read How To Save a Life quickly too. I immediately connected with the two girls at the center of the story. As I had come to expect by this point (in my third Zarr book), the writing was superb. The voices of the two narrators, Jill and Mandy were both well developed and distinctive. Their individual reactions were realistic. I loved that the two girls are clearly teenagers with teen-aged reactions. The mother is a mother with adult reactions. And yet they all find a way to relate to each other. Neither age group is marginalized. Sara Zarr knows how to construct a story and execute it flawlessly.

How To Save a Life, Sara Zarr [rating:4]

In some ways, these stories are a lot a like. But How To Save a Life took two girls from two different backgrounds and made them interact. This worked better for me than just having Deanna’s story in Story of a Girl. Even judging on the covers, How To Save a Life wins for me. (And don’t you just have to sing that The Fray song every time you read that title?)

Sara Zarr is a talented writer, and I genuinely enjoyed both books. But there was no contest here for me. How To Save a Life takes it hands down.

Winner: How To Save a Life

I know that not everyone would come down this way on the judging. Vote in the poll below and leave your reasoning for your decision in the comments.

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