I am not a fan of book reviews. Reading them, I mean. I would rather read the books. So when I write book reviews, I try to make mine as non-New York Times Book Review or Washington Post Book Review as possible. I think this time I have even outdone myself, since no self respecting New York Times Book Review reviewer would just cut and paste some emails she sent to the author and call them a review. Well, here’s the truth: this is not a review. This is a love letter to Sara Zarr’s latest novel.
actual email (with a few edits for clarity and general blogginess) to Sara Zarr, written at 2:03 a.m. on May 7th, after finishing ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) for How to Save a Life, Zarr’s latest book, which comes out Tuesday October 11.
In high school, I used my babysitting money to pay for a subscription to Writer’s Digest. And I remember one ad that said, I can come into your house and steal. (it was sort of sinister). But the gist was, a writer has power. To make you laugh, or cry.
I started crying about halfway (if that) through reading HTSAL and have been blubbering ever since.
(Did you cry while writing it?)
I went through a (not full) Kleenex box. I didn’t stop. I started at 11:30 and didn’t look up until 1:15. A.M. Fortunately, I can go in to work late in the morning if need be.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE your book. From the minute Mandy’s character said “all the magazines had ‘the’ in front of them, ‘The Economist…” I was in love. (I never thought about that…that magazines could be categorized by an article. But truly, magazines like People, Star, Hello! are very different from The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker…) Right away, Mandy, who up to that point seemed like a bit of a ditz, had a real voice, not just the things her mother told her about to how to catch a man. Here she was, in a world so different from her own, trying to make sense of this new habitat. Even the magazines are different…
I remember your blog posts (and tweets, I’m pretty sure there were tweets) about being in Denver and thinking you should move to Denver.
I love that the fonts are different, and how each font really reflects each girl. I love that Alex wrote back and said “stop writing me!” (and how we discover that he wrote that.) I loved how Mandy parroted her mother but wanted something different, and that’s why she decided to not have an abortion, to instead try to save a life, to maybe change her own. I loved the letters that Mandy wrote, long hand, because I used to be queen of the long hand letter and miss that form of communication so much.
And Ravi…what a dear dear boy. I love that Jill decked him in the beginning.
I imagined the store where Mandy worked, Margins, as the Barnes and Noble that I worked at before I left to go to library school, in Seven Corners, Virginia. When I worked at a different B&N in downtown Pittsburgh, I remember a guy swiping my books back in the kids’ department, but I could never catch him, prove anything.
The relationships in this book were so true, the language was so natural. I feel like you took a lot of big risks, this was a book that could have been one big cliche. But you made it honest. You did right by the story.
And even though I am hormonal, and stressed, you gave me a way out of my own crap for a couple of hours. And I needed that, so badly. (Even though I do wish I hadn’t used all my Kleenex…) (Well, I’m sure I still have some in the bathroom.)
I thought the Bible being the box for the watch was a great prop. And Dylan, all hip, afraid of the cops at the pawn shops. So different from Ravi. “Clark.” That was a classic scene. “No, uh, I was thinking of William Clark, you know, of Lewis and Clark, the explorers?”
You done good. I promise to blog about it, but I wanted to write to you, too, since I already had (was that only yesterday? It seems like a lifetime ago.)
All cried out,
actual email to Sara Zarr, the day before.
It’s strange, because I don’t know you, not really, but I felt like I needed to tell you (ask permission after the fact?) that I flipped to the end of your book. It’s a habit I have if the book seems like it might break my heart. Almost all Grisham novels also get this treatment. After writing that, I can see some people might see that as pejorative and I didn’t mean it that way.
And it’s so beautiful and I probably was close to a cry anyways after a confusing chat with my mother, but I am blubbering. It is so beautiful. I didn’t get all of it, and that’s okay, b/c I don’t want to spoil the whole thing, but I know that I will love the middle, now that I’ve sampled the top and bottom layers.
Also, I adore the cover. It’s been staring at me all week, saying “why are you not reading me?” as I’ve been scurrying around, trying to not fail at my own deadlines.
I’m really intrigued now to find out who Kent is, and who the guy Jill meets for coffee at the end is.
The story of this blogger’s year: I have been too busy trying to not fail at my own deadlines since May. But I want you to know that if you miss this book, you’re missing something wonderful.