Mar7 Originally published at Breakpoint. Then, Samara must learn to love and accept imperfect parents and an imperfect and questioning self. I loved the way the novel dealt with faith questions without over-simplifying or stereotyping the Christian characters. Jill is an upper-middle-class, pierced-to-the-hilt child of privilege whose mother is a liberal career woman do-gooder with a heart for giving to others. Does Jill have the ability to overcome her misgivings about the adoption and become a loving older sister? Does Mandy really want to give up the only thing that has ever been completely hers, her own baby?
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Jill Dad would want me to be here. That I know the right things to do and will always do them in the end, even if it takes me a while to get there and even if I fight the whole way. We were the same that way. He was, I am. When he was here, I knew who I was. In theory, I should be the same person now I was then. He died, not me.
Hard to deal with people who are only trying to be nice, comforting. Hard to not hate all my friends who still have their dads. The hardest thing of all is loving my mom without him to show me how. Obviously, I love my mom. Especially understanding. Wreck it more, I mean. Eventually I had to stop arguing with her; my rants only make her more stubborn about seeing this through. This affects three lives. Soon to be four. Threat level Orange tends to do that. I sink my hands into the pockets of my peacoat, trying to warm them up and also feeling for my phone.
Mom looks so lonely over there. No Dad beside her to rest his hand on her shoulder, the way he would. I could do that. How hard can it be? I move closer. Tentatively lift my arm. The sister. Mom looks at her cell and fluffs her cropped hair. Thwonk thwonk thwonk. Do you want to have a time-out? Thwonk thwonk thwonk thwonk. This is what we have to look forward to. When she announced over tuna casserole six weeks ago that she was going to participate in an open adoption, I laughed.
She frowned, fiddled with her napkin. Something I could potentially talk you out of? But this was completely consistent, so something she would do. It drove Dad crazy. Then there was the time she decided she wanted to paint every room in the house a different color and started one Saturday while Dad and I were at the self-defense class he made me take.
We came home and the living room had gone from white to Alpine Lake Azure. This is not insane. Early fifties is not old. I can do math, Jill. Our quiet street outside. Yet this conversation? Not normal.
You know Dad and I talked about doing something like this for years. And they really got into their volunteer work with foster kids a few years ago. With a baby. Which just seemed like a really, really bad idea, for so many reasons. Sometimes even I know when to shut up. Anger I can deal with. Anger is easy for me. But the truth is I felt like I was going to cry. My mom is not a stupid person and not a selfish person. Things she does that might seem that way on the surface come from a really good place in her heart.
One year she boycotted Christmas because she was fed up with consumerism. A cool idea from a good place, yet it also kind of sucked because, you know, no tree, no presents, not even a stocking. Adding someone to a family, though? Is major. In the months after Dad died, a couple of people told us we should get a dog.
A dog! How is this all that different? I rinsed the dishes and beat down the hurt with more anger. She spooned leftovers into a plastic container. Snapped on the lid. Put it in the fridge. Handed me the casserole dish to rinse. She put on the teakettle. I watched her middle-aged body move, her back half-covered by silvery hair Dad would never let her color, and I could almost see his hand smoothing it down as he bent to give her an after-dinner kiss before taking down the cups and saucers—pottery from their tenth anniversary trip to Brazil.
I knew how much she missed Dad. I missed him, too. And I knew how different our missing him was, and that made it even harder. Let us get used to each other, the people we are without Dad. It feels right. A death, and now a life. A lonely sound. Skin like he might be Hispanic, or Indian like Christopher, or even the other kind of Indian. He could be in his thirties or forties, and two times his leg has brushed against mine without his knowing it. When I got on in Omaha, he was already sitting there, and as I walked the aisle, he looked up and smiled.
So I stopped, and he let me sit by the window. Someone else is awake—the woman in a seat across and in front of us has been crying off and on. It started with sniffles, and the sniffles got more frequent, and then she put her face down into her scarf and pressed it against her eyes.
I wonder what kind of crying it is. Anger or hurt or betrayal or feeling lost. Those are things that might make me cry, but not in public. My mother says a little bit of sadness is okay, and sometimes it can help men notice you. But crying is too much, she says. Crying makes them scared.
They feel helpless, and you never want to make a man feel helpless. I barely even do it in private. At the train station in Omaha, I came close. A light snow had started to fall on top of the snow already on the ground.
My bags were big. Did he notice it was closed? I would have noticed if I were him, driving a pregnant girl from Council Bluffs to the train station.
I would make sure she was okay. This is what made me want to cry. It felt bigger than only a cab driver, a stranger, leaving me in the snow. It felt personal. Knowing no one really cares if you stay or if you go or if you freeze to death in a train station parking lot or if you simply disappear. At the train station, though, seeing the cab drive away, that hurt me where I already hurt.
How to Save a Life
Author Sara Zarr captures real, unsentimental emotions as two teen girls from opposite worlds are thrust together at the cusp of womanhood. Harsh, punky Jill MacSweeney is mourning the death of her father—and not doing a great job of it. She has alienated everyone in her life, finding it easiest to be cold to those she loves the most. Her mother, in an effort to fill the void left by her husband, decides to adopt a baby. Timid, dolled-up Mandy Kalinowski from Omaha answers her plea and travels across the country to stay with Jill and her mom until the baby comes. She has plenty of secrets, but her greatest concern is finding a better life for her child than her own. As the two girls come face to face, something begins to change within them.