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I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass was another selection from this year’s annual county library sale. Why did I pick it up?

Several reasons. One, I loved the title. All you can see at the book sale are the titles in the way they are arranged. That title drew my attention because of the many possibilities of what it might be about. Two, I was totally drawn to the cover, with this magnificent pitcher of crackled turquoise glass and the seashell. So simple, and yet so arresting. And, I just realized as I write this, each of these two objects may symbolize the two main characters.

Three, the storyline. I was intrigued by the story of two sisters, four years apart, so totally different and how they grew both individually and in their relationship to each other over 25 years. (I also picked I See You Everywhere because a fellow writer has a middle grade novel of two sisters, twins actually, and I thought this might be helpful to her in her characterization.) So an unknown book and author that can appeal on numerous levels right off the bat? A good thing!

The story starts when Clem is still in college and Louisa graduated and beginning a career. Louisa is the conservative and conscientious sister who yearns for a career in art, a good marriage and a family. Clem, 4 years younger, is a rebel who takes on adventurous assignments working with animals in faraway places, daring, and not one to settle down with any one man. Louisa’s and Clem’s stories are told in first person, present tense, alternating between the two sisters. How they move through their lives and their feelings about each other reveals their own personal issues, their challenges, their sisterly resentments, jealousies, and compassion for one another.

I found this to be a very well-written novel. I’ve never read Julia Glass before, but she has a National Book Award behind her for Three Junes, and has written another novel as well. Her use of language is lovely, and I enjoyed that immensely. I was able to identify more readily with one of the characters, though both are entirely relatable, and that character – Clem – drew me in more perhaps for what wasn’t said than what was. This was a good read.

The only thing I noticed, and this was probably only because I just finished How to Save A Life by Sara Zarr, is that I felt I was always reading the author’s voice, not the individual character. What really wowed me about Zarr’s YA novel, also two females, (teens), written first person, present, is that whether you read Mandy or Jill, you always felt they were writing their own chapters. This is no small feat, and I was truly impressed.  In I See You Everywhere, although I was reading Clem or Louisa’s thoughts, it seemed the same beautiful language either way. Happily, it is beautifully written, but following on the heels of Sara Zarr’s book, it was something I noticed.

As for the story, I did enjoy it. I cared about Louisa and Clem. I enjoyed watching them grow, deal with heartache and pain, challenges, successes and failures. The story takes a twist at the end that I never saw coming, and I’m still not sure how it’s sitting with me. But that the author has me thinking about it after I’ve moved on to my next read … well, that says something about a good storyteller.

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YA NovelHow to Save A Life by Sara Zarr is aptly titled, though it’s not quite clear whose life (or lives) will ultimately be saved nor how until the tension starts building well into the book. I really liked this novel. The story is told in first person in alternating chapters by the two main characters, Jill and Mandy. The book designer was insightful enough to use a different font for each chapter and head it with the character’s name, which made it ever so easy to always know who was speaking. (Unlike an adult book which I am reading now with 2 characters alternating, but which does not help the reader with this very simple aid.)

Jill, a senior in high school, is trying to adjust to the sudden death of her father, with whom she was most closely identified. In addition to her future plans being unclear, Jill now has to adjust to her mother, Robin, having decided to adopt a baby. Mandy is a pregnant teenage girl from Omaha, who needs to get away from an abusive home situation and who has connected with Robin online to give her baby away. Additionally, there is a love interest or two for Jill, but plenty of conflicts for all of the characters.

One of the things that is so very impressive in How to Save A Life is the absolute consistency of voice of both Mandy and Jill, and I say kudos to Sara Zarr for pulling this off so amazingly. I found the story to move along at a slow and gentle pace for quite some time, gradually revealing Jill and Mandy’s situations, feelings and conflicts. It builds quite  seamlessly to the point that could change everything, and then the pace picks up rapidly.

Mandy and Jill are as different as day and night, as are their life circumstances, but Zarr never gave me any real reason to change my mind about how I felt about them, no matter how they behaved or what choices they made. Mandy and Jill’s choices were always understandable, always forgivable, no matter how seemingly selfish, unwise or uninformed. This is the mark of a great author, to create characters we genuinely care about and with whom we can identify.

I recommend How to Save A Life to anyone who enjoys a good read and wonderful character development. For those of us who are writing, how Sara Zarr has put it all together is enlightening, as well.

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