Kelly Braffet’s Save Yourself is angry, sad, and dark. It’s a story of flawed—broken, really—people doing things that, to an observer, would look pathetic, tragic, incomprehensible. But once you start reading, you won’t be on the outside anymore, and while the actions will remain pathetic and tragic, they will no longer seem incomprehensible.
Save Yourself is told from several points of view, an approach to which I don’t normally warm, but in this case, it really couldn’t have been done any other way. In fact, I’d venture to say that that’s the theme of this book: how our points of view impact what we see, what we do, who we are. First, there’s Patrick, the convenience store employee who has committed the crime of having a drunk driver as a father, for which he’s been convicted and sentenced on that harsh judge of all things partially known, the Internet. (Let that be a lesson to you, kids: NEVER READ THE COMMENTS SECTION.) Then Verna, the good girl of strict Christian parents with the bad older sister Layla, whom she can’t help idolizing a little. We get chunks of Layla’s viewpoint via Verna (hearsay, but that’s okay; this isn’t a court of law). Finally, in a smaller dose, Caro, the it’s-complicated girlfriend of Patrick’s older brother, Mike.
As I said, I sometimes don’t like having a story told to me from multiple points of view because it can feel like a plot exercise, just a way to get things moving. But in Save Yourself, it’s so much more than that. To Verna, Layla looks like a brave, if somewhat misguided, rebel. To Patrick, Layla looks lost and sad. To Layla, her kinda-boyfriend Justinian looks like a misunderstood hero. To Verna, he looks—okay, I don’t really want to get into that. I try not to venture into spoiler territory in my reviews, and I’m getting close. Let’s just say that Braffet’s juggling of multiple points of view is a masterful handling of funhouse mirrors, and it brings to mind the Chinese (or so the Internets tell me) proverb: “There are three truths: your truth, my truth, and the truth.”
Save Yourself is not an easy book to read. (That might be me; everything I’ve read lately feels so SERIOUS to me. I don’t think so, though; it’s pretty hardcore.) But no one in it is a caricature, not even the strict home-schooling Christian parents, who are often so easy to make into cartoons. This is a serious book about serious people. Notice I avoided using the word “characters.”
If you are a reader, read it. If you are a writer, read it, then study it. That is all.