A gripping novel full of suspense and pathos that Dennis Lehane calls an "electrifying, tomahawk missile of a thriller."
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.
Kelly Braffet's characters, indelibly portrayed and richly varied, are all on their own twisted path to finding peace. The result is a novel of unnerving power - darkly compelling, addictively written, and shockingly honest.
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. When he worked nights, the way he usually did, the world was dark and quiet and calm outside and it made him feel dark and quiet and calm inside. When he worked days, all he felt was trapped.
So by the time he made it out of the store that evening, he was just glad to be free. His eyes were hot with exhaustion and the odor of the place lingered on his clothes--stale potato chips, old candy, the thick syrupy smell of the soda fountain--but the warm September air felt good. As he rounded the corner of the building and headed toward the Dumpsters where he'd parked, back where the asphalt had almost crumbled into gravel and the weeds grew tall right up to the edge of the lot, the car keys in his hand were still cold from the air conditioner. That was all he was...
There are instances when the extreme darkness seems endless but Braffet’s incisive writing is brilliant and edgy and it keeps you reading through the worst of it. There’s something strangely mesmerizing in watching the characters’ brave struggles.
(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).
Full Review (1128 words).
In Save Yourself, Patrick Cusimano works at Zoney's, a 24-hour convenience store in a small fictional town in Pennsylvania called Ratchetsburg. He finds his candy-striped uniform and the sterile atmosphere of the place stifling, yet work here is one of just a few options for town residents. From what Braffet describes, it seems like Zoney's is the only food store around for miles. Such areas, where access to fresh produce and food is quite limited, are labeled "food deserts."
According to the USDA, an area qualifies as a food desert if it is both a "low-income" community and also a "low-access" community. "Low income" as defined for these purposes by the USDA is a census tract (a statistical segment of a county designated for census...
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