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2022 Literary Escapes Challenge

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Antarctica (1)
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My Progress:

27 / 51 states. 53% done!

2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

18 / 50 books. 36% done!

2022 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

19 / 25 books. 76% done!

2022 Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge

My Progress:

40 / 53 books. 75% done!

Booklist Queen's 2022 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

38 / 52 books. 73% done!

Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2022

1 / 24 books. 4% done!

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge

3 / 20 books. 15% done!

2022 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

My Progress:

29 / 50 books. 58% done!

The 52 Book Club's Reading Challenge 2022

The 52 Book Club's Reading Challenge 2022

My Progress:

37 / 52 books. 71% done!

2022 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

33 / 50 books. 66% done!

2022 Support Book Bloggers Challenge

2022 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Maybe I'm Predisposed to Love Adoption Stories, Or, Maybe Sara Zarr Just Really Knows How to Tell One

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Jill MacSweeney's mother announces her plans to adopt a baby, the 17-year-old can't figure out how she's supposed to feel.  Excited?  Angry?  Encouraging?  Sad?  All of those emotions and more ricochet around inside her, because although the adoption idea has come out of nowhere, Jill can see it for what it is—a lonely woman's attempt to replace her dead husband and college-bound daughter with someone who needs mothering.  Jill understands, but she can't quite get behind such an extreme decision.  Her mother won't be dissuaded, though, so, because she knows it's what her dad would want, Jill's trying her best to be supportive.  At least until she can convince her mom to vent her grief in some less drastic way.

Mandy Kalinowski knows the baby growing inside her will be safe with Robin MacSweeney.  Even though she's old (52) for an adoptive mother, Robin seems steady, stable—two adjectives that don't describe 18-year-old Mandy at the moment.  It's because of the woman's kind emails that Mandy decides to let Robin adopt her baby when its born.  Also, because she agrees to an unconventional adoption, with no contracts, no lawyers.  With Robin, Mandy can give her baby a better life and not have to let go of any of her closely-guarded secrets.  

Mandy's arrival in Denver leaves Jill even more convinced that taking in the pregnant 18-year-old is a bad, bad idea.  Mandy seems shifty, secretive—the exact kind of scam artist that could take her already vulnerable mother for everything she's got.  But the more Jill gets to know Mandy, the more she sees the scarred girl underneath the rough exterior.  And the more she observes her mom, the more she believes that a baby might be just what Robin needs.  At the same time, Mandy's got her own agenda, one that might dash every dream Robin has left.  With the baby's due date fast approaching, the three women must learn how to understand each other, trust each other and, ultimately, decide how to proceed when all of their hopes, dreams and goals are on the line.  

Well, I did a pretty shoddy job of describing the beauty that is Sara Zarr's fourth novel, How to Save a Life. Maybe, being an adoptive mother, I'm predisposed to like books that are about a subject that's so close to my heart.  Or, more probably, Zarr just knows how to write a story that's touching without being saccharine and sentimental.  Because, the truth is, I totally felt this one.  The characters are sympathetic, complex and genuine.   Same could be said for the story, which takes some surprising turns, but remains believable, true.  How to Save a Life is just one of those books that engaged me from its first word to its last.  It's a heart-wrenching, hopeful novel, one that reminds me why I love contemporary YA so much.  I wish I had the words to describe how much the story touched me, but I don't, so I'll leave you with these two words instead:  Read it.       

(Readalikes: Reminds me a teensy tiny bit of Chosen by Chandra Hoffman)

Grade:  A

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder invectives) and some sexual content 

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Mormon Mentions: Sara Zarr

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.

If these kinds of posts offend you, please feel free to skip them.  If not, read on:

In Sara Zarr's YA novel, How to Save a Life, a pregnant 18-year-old woman is traveling on a train from Nebraska to Colorado.  She meets a man, with whom she has a conversation, in which this exchange takes place:

[Mandy]:  "Are there going to be Mexican wedding cookies? ... I thought since they were called that, they'd be served at a Mexican wedding."

[Alex]:  "More like a Mormon wedding" (19-20).

- It should be mentioned that although Sara Zarr is not LDS, she does live in Utah, which presumably gives her a fairly good handle on many things Mormon.  Just sayin'.

Although Zarr doesn't go into any detail about Mormon weddings, I thought it would be an interesting subject for this post.  You've no doubt seen a Mormon temple somewhere in your travels.  You may have even wondered what goes on inside them (I assure you it's not human sacrifices—we do those in the meetinghouses*).  Since the temple is all about making sacred covenants, this is where LDS couples are married.  We believe that the bonds we form on Earth do not end when we die, but are, in fact, eternal.  Thus, there is no better place for a marriage ceremony to take place than inside a holy temple.

In order to enter the temple at all, individuals must be "worthy" to do so, meaning they've been interviewed by their local ecclesiastical leaders and found to be keeping the commandments, abiding by the tenets of the LDS Church, and trying their best to live lives that are honest and true.  If both the prospective bride and groom are found to be worthy, then they're allowed to be married in the temple.  Because not everyone can enter the temple, not all of the couple's friends and family members can witness the marriage ceremony.  Sometimes, couples with a lot of non-LDS friends and family may exchange rings outside the temple so that everyone can feel a part of the ceremony.  Couples who are not ready to enter the temple may be married in civil ceremonies that often take place at an LDS meetinghouse with a bishop (leader of a ward, or congregation).  After a year, if the couple is deemed ready, they can be sealed in the temple for time and all eternity.

Wedding receptions, on the other hand, do not take place inside the temple.  They can be held in meetinghouses, reception halls, backyards or wherever a couple chooses.  They are as individual as the people who plan them.  They are also where friends and family members of all faiths can come to celebrate the marriage.

In case you're curious, here's the temple in which I was married:

It's located in Lake Oswego, Oregon, which is near Portland.  It's a beautiful building, inside and out.

*I was totally kidding about human sacrifice.
**To see photos of temples around the world and learn more about their purpose, please visit

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