Death. Religion. Drink driving. Bullying. Vampirism. Psychopaths. Pledge Rings.
And that's just the first few chapters. Seriously, Save Yourself, the debut novel from American author Kelly Braffet is a non-stop roller coaster ride of emotions featuring some very emotionally damaged people. The novel opens with Patrick, a twenty-something living in a small American town. Patrick's Dad is in jail after a drink driving incident resulted in the death of a small boy. Patrick was not only the person who turned his own father in, but he and his brother Mike are facing the wrath of the entire community for waiting nineteen hours before they did so. As far as the locals are concerned, Patrick and his brother just don't care that a boy died. Patrick, meanwhile, spent nineteen hours of hell--first comforting his father and then questioning his own loyalties and sense of duty.
On the other side of town is Verna, a sweet and innocent high school freshman who wants nothing more than to fit in. Which is a little difficult when her older sister has just turned goth and her very religious, right wing father has just destroyed the curriculum at her school by having sex ed removed from one of the classes. Consequently, Verna is feeling the wrath of the school bullies and her teachers, well they're angry with her father and really don't care how much she suffers. The only people who offer Verna any kind of hope are a boy who later betrays her and her older sister, Layla, who introduces Verna to the charismatic Justinian and his friends. Together, Layla and Verna become a part of Justinian's inner circle and are introduced to a very dark and disturbing new world.
The lives of Patrick, Layla, Verna and Caro, the girlfriend of Patrick's brother, soon intersect. It is interesting to see how their lives and paths cross which leads to some very tragic circumstances. Much of the book focuses on what it means to be at the lower end of the chain, the very thing that all people look down upon, in order to make sense of their own lives. Verna is the victim of some very brutal schoolyard bullying and her teachers, quite frankly, could not give a shit because they're angry at her father. Patrick has suffered from his fathers actions, and finds himself not only shunned by an entire town, but the parents of the child who was harmed, seem to unable or unwilling to see the degree to which he has already suffered and want him to hurt more. In this way, they don't have to bare the responsibility for the fact that they were not properly supervising their child. And Justinian ... well he just likes the power he gets from controlling every faucet of the lives of the people he supposedly cares about.
Save Yourself is a bloody depressing and fascinating read that will undoubtably stay with me for a very long time. I found the story was written well overall, however, I'm not a fan of its ambiguous ending--what did happen to Mike? Obviously, Patrick and Caro have some kind of relationship, but what? And what of Jared, the high school bullies and can the wants of the dead boy's parents ever be satisfied? Who knows? I would have liked a greater sense of closure here. Not all questions need to be answered in detail, but some closure is good.
The novel has been reviewed well since it's release in the United States as an eBook in August and will no doubt gain positive reviews when it is released in Australia on 1 November.
As always, big shout out to the publisher and the Reading Room for my pre-release review copy. Thanks.