Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

Save Yourself by Kelly BraffetHe had, it seemed, developed a talent for seeking out the worst possible thing he could do in any given situation, and then doing it.

Though everyone certainly feels that sense of not being able to do anything right at some point or another in their lives, Patrick Cusimano really does seem to be batting zero when it comes to the “good decision” arena, his most recent lapse being a particular biggie.

A year prior to the start of Save Yourself, Patrick was home one evening with his brother when their father staggered in, quite drunk and even more distraught. An investigation of his father’s car revealed it to have been in a serious accident…one which resulted in the hit-and-run death of a six-year-old.

Unfortunately, Patrick waited 19 hours before calling the police, a delay that the residents of their small town have never forgiven the brothers for. The resulting cold shoulders and sideways looks forced Patrick out of his warehouse job, and he now finds himself working the graveyard shift at a convenience store.

The Elshere sisters have also found themselves on the receiving end of a less than warm welcome from their peers, though arguably through no fault of their own. Daughters of a strict fundamentalist, the teens became the focus of bullying when their father’s campaign against the teaching of sex-ed in Biology resulted in one of the high school’s most popular teachers being fired. Older sister, Layla, responded to the taunts and torment by joining up with the school’s clique of Goths and rejecting her parents’ Christian teachings.

Freshman Verna thought she’d be able to handle the pressure if she just minded her own business and kept her head down, but she didn’t anticipate the level of hatred and abuse her fellow students were prepared to heap upon her relentlessly. Soon, she finds herself drifting into her sister’s circle of outcast friends in order to survive.

When Layla happens to cross paths with Patrick one night at the convenience store, she recognizes him as one of the infamous Cusimano family members and, sensing a kindred lost soul, attempts to strike up a friendship. Patrick wants nothing to do with Layla, whom he views as something between a stalker and jailbait. Slowly, almost inexplicably, however, the two do start to form an odd relationship, one which signals the start down a path which will ultimately be lined with more of those “worst possible thing” decisions, and from which there will be no turning back.

Save Yourself, the third novel from author Kelly Braffet, is an insidiously powerful piece of storytelling. The events unfold so causally and matter of fact in the early going that the reader almost doesn’t get a true feeling for how deeply they’re being pulled into the narrative–and how dangerous events are getting–until, all of the sudden, it becomes painfully clear that everyone involved, reader and characters alike, is in way over their heads.

Braffet’s depiction of the feelings of emptiness and isolation that haunt young adults searching for identity and acceptance is as real as it gets; the mundane misery of getting through a shift at a small town convenience store or a day of high school dealing with bullies has rarely been so vividly captured. And while Braffet nails the emotional immaturity, insecurity, and decisions made from desperation that young people are apt to fall prey to, she also recognizes and respects the fierce wit, independence, and honesty those same young adults are capable of in their search for footing and direction in a world that seems to be trying to break them down and tear them apart.

Alternately deeply dark and heartbreakingly hopeful, much like life, Save Yourself promises the reader nothing, especially not an easy go of things. Also much like life, however, Save Yourself is ultimately a richly rewarding journey filled with the opportunity for reflection and growth, a story which will continuously challenge you to rethink your expectations and understanding.

Save Yourself is available from Crown (ISBN: 978-0385347340).

Kelly Braffet is the author of Josie and Jack and Last Seen Leaving. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University, where she received her MFA. Kelly lives in upstate New York with her husband, the writer Owen King. To learn more about Kelly’s work, visit her website or connect with her on Facebook.

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