Patrick Cusimano is in a bad way. His father is in jail; he works the midnight shift at a grubby convenience store; and his brother’s girlfriend, Caro, has taken their friendship to an uncomfortable new level. On top of all that, he can’t quite shake the attentions of Layla Elshere, a goth teenager who befriends Patrick for reasons he doesn’t understand, and doesn’t fully trust. The temptations these two women offer are pushing Patrick to his breaking point.
Meanwhile, Layla’s little sister, Verna, is suffering through her first year of high school. She’s become a prime target for her cruel classmates, not just because of her strange name and her fundamentalist parents: Layla’s bad-girl rep proves to be too a huge shadow for Verna, so she falls in with her sister’s circle of outcasts and misfits whose world is far darker than she ever imagined.
I’m finding Save Yourself a hard book to review, because I can’t seem to make my mind up about it. On the one hand I really liked it and found it compelling, especially towards the ending, but on the other hand I found the book slow going and at times a bit of a depressing slog. And every time I sit down to write my review I tend to oscillate between these two extremes. One thing is sure, either way Braffet certainly succeeded in getting a reaction out of me, which surely is part of what a book should do. So what did I like about it and what made it such a dark story?
Save Yourself is a psychological thriller that tells quite a dark story; it’s the story of how Patrick Cusimano’s insanely complicated life could get even worse. And it’s also the story of how two sisters lose themselves, and each other, when their strict religious upbringing creates conflict with their lives as high school students. The narrative is told from three points of view: Patrick, Verna, and Caro. They are all pretty broken people. Patrick has to deal with his childhood, his mum’s untimely death, the crime his father committed and what this forced Patrick to do. Verna is trying to get to terms with her very strict religious upbringing, her sister’s rebellion and all that entail. Caro is trying to get past an abusive childhood with a mentally unstable mother and some less than fatherly step-dads. In fact the entire book is full off broken people. Verna’s sister Layla is just as lost and broken as Verna is, for much the same reasons. Their school friends, who are outcasts, and more than just outcasts, seem to be looking for something to guide them through their troubled home lives. And their leader Justinian, the one who might be the most broken and damaged of them all. The story is about the lies people tell themselves, the lies they tell each other, and the way they play on the hurts each carries.
Beyond the darkness of the narrative, the book is also somewhat of a slow starter, in fact the plot isn’t very fast-paced at all; instead we really get into the characters heads. This gradual insertion into the characters’ psyche was extremely well done; even if they’re not always likeable or understandable, the protagonists are sympathetic. Even Patrick and Caro, surprisingly, because usually screwing your brother over? Not cool. But in their case it somehow seems as it should be. The one thing that bugged me is that Layla’s motivation in seeking out Patrick never gets explained and I still can’t get my head around it. And Justinian and his cult-like ways also did my head in; where were his parents? Where are the adults in any of these children’s lives? The plot and its denouement slowly creep up on you, only to take you for a rollercoaster ride you’re unaware you boarded until it’s too late to get off, much like Verna and Patrick feel during the last chapters of the book.
So in the final verdict did I like the book? I certainly enjoyed the craft and found Patrick and Verna compelling, but despite its relatively short length, 247 pages in my eARC, the book seemed very long. Partly this is because of the slow pace, but it’s also because the book takes pretty long to get to the point. Still the closer I got to the end of the book, the more I got drawn in until had to read to the ending holding my breath. If that is what Braffet set out to do with this psychological tale of suspense see most definitely succeeded. If you enjoy a twisty and dark psychological thriller, Save Yourself is an excellent choice to pick up next time you go book shopping.
Monday, August 5th: Literally Jen
Tuesday, August 6th: Book Addiction
Friday, August 9th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Tuesday, August 13th: Caribousmom
Tuesday, August 13th: Reviews by Elizabeth A. White
Wednesday, August 14th: Jen’s Book Thoughts
Thursday, August 15th: The Relentless Reader
Friday, August 16th: Bound by Words
Monday, August 19th: More Than Just Magic
Tuesday, August 20th: Literate Housewife Reviews
Wednesday, August 21st: Books a la Mode – author Q&A
Thursday, August 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life
Friday, August 23rd: Luxury Reading
Monday, August 26th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, August 27th: A Fantastical Librarian
Wednesday, August 28th: Twisting the Lens
Thursday, August 29th: Simply Stacie
Friday, August 30th: The Best Books Ever
Tuesday, September 3rd: Book Hooked Blog