First line: "Patrick worked the day shift at Zoney's GoMart one Wednesday a month: sealed into the vacuum-packed chill behind the convenience store's dirty plate-glass windows, watching cars zoom by on the highway while he stood still."
The phenomenon of watching a car wreck and not being able to take your eyes off of it is quite similar to the effect of Kelly Braffet's Save Yourself . It's horrible to watch; people are suffering, possibly dying, but it's. just. so. magnetic. You have to keep watching.
Patrick's life is a car wreck, or rather the result of a car wreck. His father, a chronic drunk, hit and killed a small child while driving intoxicated. Patrick called the police when his father left the scene of the crime and drove home.
Patrick lives with that choice hanging over him every day. His older brother, Mike, can't forgive him for making the call. The community can't forgive him for not making the call sooner. So Patrick is whiling away his life in a dead-end job, very much dead inside.
Layla Elshere's life is a car wreck as well. When she came home from school one day and told her parents about the safe sex lesson she'd received in school, her father--a self-made preacher--went on the war path. He was successful in having reproduction removed from the science curriculum, but he was also successful in alienating his daughter from all of her classmates. When they attempted to set fire to her hair, Layla turned to the only people she thought cared about her.
When these two car wrecks collide, the only possible outcome is a fiery crash.
Save Yourself is a dark, intense, gritty crime story. The lives of Patrick and Layla, as well as those around both of them, intertwine in a complex plot that illuminates their souls standing on a precipice: is it just time to call it quits or is there's something out there worth saving yourself for? The climax will force everyone to make that final decision.
Save Yourself deals with some intense societal issues: bullying, peer pressure, education, alcoholism, mental health, but more than anything Save Yourself deals with the innocent people harmed by the careless choices of others. They lose control of their lives through no fault of their own and find giving up to be easier than fighting to regain that control. In many ways Save Yourself is a difficult read. It's easy to sit on the outside and cast judgement, to think the characters are making bad choices and why in the world would they do that? However, if you take that approach with Save Yourself, you'll miss the enormity of what's happening in this story, in these lives. It's much harder to climb into the skin of those characters and share those experiences. Braffet does an impressive job of helping her readers to empathize with her unheroic characters.
The one caution I would throw out here deals with a blurb on the book. The blurb on my ARC copy referred to Save Yourself as a thriller. And here's one of the major reasons I hate labels. I wouldn't describe this book as a thriller because I think it would create the wrong expectation of what you're going to read. It's steeped in crime; it has strong noirish qualities, but this isn't a high-action, high-octane type of read. Which is not to say it's a bad book by any means. I think my review reflects otherwise. But if readers open the book thinking it's going to be a non-stop action type of book, they may project an undeserving disappointment on the book. Save Yourself is a psychological whirlwind. It's a thought-provoking look at the human spirit. It's a portentous journey into an all-too-real fictional world.
Save Yourself is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780385347341) from Crown Publishers. There is also an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9780385393799) version, narrated by Michael Goldstrom available from Random House Audio.
My review is part of the blog tour with TLC Book Tours. You can see the complete list of participating bloggers here. Be sure to check out what others have to say about Save Yourself.
Disclosure: In recent months I have begun doing some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work does not involve this tour or any other tour I would agree to be a part of here at the blog. Nor does my work with them obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.