Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

Save YourselfSave Yourself by Kelly Braffet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an uncomfortable book to read, but I’m giving it four stars because I think it was very well plotted, was genuinely thought-provoking, and was able to create an extreme level of suspense and tension.
The novel follows the lives of Patrick and Mike Cusimano, two brothers whose father was recently convicted of killing a child in a drunk driving hit-and-run. They live together in their childhood home, pariahs in the town, working dead-end jobs, and just getting by. The only bright spot in the brothers’ lives is Caro, Mike’s girlfriend, who also is nursing a mysterious and painful past. The other two main characters in the novel are Layla and Verna Elshere, two teenaged daughters of the town minister, a man who has devoted his life to protecting girls from the dangers of premarital sex. He runs a program called “Price of Rubies,” which encourages girls to promise to remain abstinent, in exchange for a cheap, mass-produced ruby ring imported in questionable fashion from Mexico. Layla, the older sister, has become a rebel in the past year, doing everything possible to defy and antagonize her father. Verna, who admires Layla, is the victim of bullying at her high school, and feels alone and lost.
Into this stew of depression and hopelessness comes a trench-coated teenager named Justinian, someone who reads Nietzsche and is rumored to drink human blood. To the Elshere sisters, he seems to be the light in the darkness that they have been searching for.
Most of the novel is a slow-burn characterization of the interactions between these characters as they struggle with their anger and despair, and try to find some kind of salvation. Through much of the story, I found myself wondering why it was billed as a thriller. But in the final chapters of the novel, all the angst and suffering that the characters have been experiencing builds to an incredibly tense crescendo. The lies, because everyone is lying, either to themselves, or to each other, are exposed, and violence erupts.
I found myself genuinely in awe of how successful Kelly Braffet was in setting up the final scenes of the novel. The story is haunting and cautionary in that it shows just how easily our ordinary world can slip into horror. Save Yourself was probably one of the most disturbing books I have ever read, and I think the reason for this is how well it was written, and also, the sense it created of our everyday world slipping out of control. I felt anger as well as horror as the action unfolded, because I almost felt tricked…what had seemed pathetic suddenly became deadly, characters who I had dismissed as simply being jerks were revealed to be truly evil.
I also admire Save Yourself because it dealt with real issues. As a reader, I felt empathy for Verna and the terrible bullying she endured at school, and her experiences were even more poignant because I realized that those type of things are actually happening to kids right now. I also felt empathy for many of the other characters, all of whom were flawed. I give Braffet credit for being able to create characters with major issues who the reader is still able to relate to. The author conveys the difference between someone being an evil person, and someone making poor choices because they are coming from a place of suffering and pain inside themselves.
Another major theme in the novel is the idea of salvation. Braffet plays with religious images, using ideas of drinking blood, sheep, and the apocalypse. Her characters all want to be saved, from loneliness, from pain, from their pasts, from guilt. This is the story of whether they can save themselves. Some will succeed, and some will fail, some will live, and some will die. But in the end, we care deeply what happens, and in that way, Save Yourself is a brilliant success.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Save Yourself – Kelly Braffet | Penny Dreadful Books and Reviews

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