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Save Yourself: A Novel

Save Yourself: A Novel

3.1 9
by Kelly Braffet

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A gripping novel full of suspense and pathos that Dennis Lehane calls an "electrifying, tomahawk missile of a thriller."

Patrick Cusimano’s father killed a boy while driving drunk. Now Patrick is working at a grubby convenience store, and he and his brother, Mike, are the town pariahs. Caro, Mike’s girlfriend, is running from her own painful past,


A gripping novel full of suspense and pathos that Dennis Lehane calls an "electrifying, tomahawk missile of a thriller."

Patrick Cusimano’s father killed a boy while driving drunk. Now Patrick is working at a grubby convenience store, and he and his brother, Mike, are the town pariahs. Caro, Mike’s girlfriend, is running from her own painful past, with no idea what she’s running toward. Layla Elshere is a goth teenager who befriends Patrick for reasons he doesn’t understand and doesn’t trust. And Layla’s little sister, Verna, tortured by her classmates, finds unlikely solace with Layla’s dark tribe of outcasts.
As their fates become entwined, everyone is set down a terrifying and twisted path—leading them all toward a collision where loyalties will be betrayed, fears exposed, and lives shattered.

Now with Extra Libris material, including recommended reading and bonus content

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Enthralling. . . .This summer’s must-read. . . . Braffet expertly captures the suffocating confines of small-town life and the desperation of its outliers, with prose that simmers and thrums. . . . The tension Braffet generates becomes nearly unbearable, and the conclusion, when it comes, feels satisfying and thoroughly earned.” —Laura Miller, Salon

“There’s storytelling skill to burn here. Ms. Braffet has empathy for her working-class characters and brings neglected places to convincing life.” New York Times

“Spectacularly nightmarish.” Entertainment Weekly

“Kelly Braffet is the real deal.  Save Yourself is an electrifying, tomahawk missile of a thriller with honest-to-God people at its core. It rocks the house.” —Dennis Lehane, author of Live by Night

“Kelly Braffet’s Save Yourself is that rare and beautiful thing—a novel that takes us to dark places not just through vivid storytelling but also through keen emotional force. It’s a tale of damaged families and the perilous weight of the past, and as the action rushes towards its chilling conclusion, you’ll find yourself breathless, shaken, moved.” —Megan Abbott, author of Dare Me
“Astonishing.  Save Yourself goes deep into the hidden and shameful parts of grief, love, and anger, and the reader emerges shaken and grateful on the far end. It’s a lacerating read, and proves that Braffet is a writer in full command of her many, many talents.” —Emma Straub, author of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures

“Braffet compassionately but honestly portrays engaging, confused characters in light, uncluttered prose. But a sharp turn keeps this from being a simple meditation on grief. This is a probing and emotional read that does not rest easy.”Bookpage
“Kelly Braffet’s wonderful new book is about as dark and twisty as it gets . . . a creepy, squirmy, steamy, scary stew that simmers to its punishing but perfect conclusion.”Book Riot
“Excruciatingly rendered characters and locomotive plotting…The plot is on a collision course that is going to end ugly—but also, in Braffet’s hands, beautifully…Perceptive, nervy, and with broad cross-genre appeal.”Booklist
“Braffet’s captivating, realistically creepy third novel . . . uses graceful prose, astute dialogue, and vivid characters to carry the plot to an unexpected and believable finale.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Through dark and hauntingly realistic moments, Braffet reveals a web of characters struggling to find themselves in a world rife with pain and rejection.”Brooklyn Daily Eagle
“Braffet is a sensual, concrete writer . . . Threads have been woven deftly into breathtaking all-natural horror . . . Psychological thriller fans will be ravenously awaiting her next book.”Chronogram

Publishers Weekly
A sharp portrait of five people damaged by their childhood elevates Braffet’s captivating, realistically creepy third novel, set in Ratchetsburg, Pa. Patrick Cusimano blames his brother, Mike, for the fact that their father, John, was sent to prison for the hit-and-run death of a child while in an alcoholic haze. Mike believes that if Patrick hadn’t called the police, their father would never have been arrested, despite the damaged, bloody car. The residents of Ratchetsburg also fault the brothers for waiting 19 hours before calling the police. Mike’s girlfriend, Caro, who fled from her bipolar mother when she was 16, lives with the brothers, but is increasingly attracted to Patrick. Meanwhile, sisters Layla and Verna Elshere are outcasts at their high school, ostracized because their father, Jeff, “a home church leader,” waged a high-profile campaign against sex education. Layla, who has retreated into the goth world, pulls Verna with her, along with Patrick, into an even darker, violent place. Braffet (Last Seen Leaving) uses graceful prose, astute dialogue, and vivid characters to carry the plot to an unexpected and believable finale. Agent: Julie Barer, Barer Literary. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
Another darkly disturbing novel from Braffet, who specializes in exploring damaged people. Patrick Cusimano and his brother Mike live in the shadow of their father, who hit and killed a child while driving drunk. After Patrick found blood and a child's baby tooth embedded in the front of his dad's car, he called the police, but the townsfolk in his Pennsylvania town haven't forgiven him that he waited 19 hours before doing so. Now, the Cusimano name is inextricably linked to the sadness and horror of their imprisoned father's deed. Meanwhile, Layla and Verna Elshere have parent problems of their own. Their dad, a "church leader" who reluctantly allowed his teen daughters to attend public school, infamously took on the school board and got a popular teacher fired for instructing students on sex education. Now, his daughters have become pariahs at their high school and are targeted by kids so mean that their behavior is downright sociopathic. To make things worse, the teachers and administration turn a blind eye to the torture of the Elshere girls. Fearing that telling their parents will only make matters worse, the two remain quiet about the physical and psychological attacks and, instead, resort to hanging around with a group of misfit goth kids who drink one another's blood and plot against the other, more popular kids. When Layla's path crosses Patrick's, she only adds to the confusion he feels about his role in life: He lives with a brother he loves and Caro, the daughter of a schizophrenic who is terrified that she, or any children she may have, will end up like her mother. Unable to move forward with his life, Patrick seems doomed to tread water, until a terrible confluence of events erupts, leaving no one untouched. Braffet writes beautifully, but the over-the-top human cruelty and depravity she incorporates in this story are both disturbing and creepy. A horrifying look at damaged people who owe all they are to their awful parents.

Product Details

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5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt


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 thinking about.

Then he saw the goth girl leaning against his car.

He'd seen her before. She'd been in the store earlier that day, when Bill came by to pick up his paycheck. Patrick had kept an eye on her because he didn't have anything else to do and because she'd been there too long, fucking with her coffee and staring into the beverage cases. Not that Patrick, personally, gave a shit what or how much she stole, but as long as she was there he'd felt at least a nominal responsibility to look concerned for the security cameras. Then Bill had called her Bride of Dracula and made an obscene suggestion, and she'd called him a degenerate and stormed out in what Patrick assumed was a huff. He and Bill had laughed about it, and he hadn't thought any more about her.

But now here she was, leaning on his car like she belonged there and staring at him with eyes as huge and merciless as camera lenses. In the dimming light, her dyed-black hair and her almost-black lipstick made her pale skin look nearly blue. She held a brown cigarette even though she looked all of sixteen, her expression a well-rehearsed mixture of indifference and faint amusement. When she saw him her lips curled in something like a smile.

"Hello," she said.

Patrick stopped. Her earrings were tiny, fully articulated human skeletons. He tried to figure out if he knew her, if underneath all that crap she was somebody from the neighborhood or somebody's kid sister that he hadn't seen since she was ten. He didn't think so. "If you're looking for weed," he told her, "you got the wrong night. That guy works Mondays."

"You mean your degenerate friend from this morning?" She laughed. It was a Hollywood laugh, as stale as the air inside the store he'd just left. "Hardly."

"Whatever." Patrick was too tired for this shit. He pointed to his car door and she moved back, but not enough. It was hard to avoid touching her as he got in. He slipped his keys into the ignition, buckled his seat belt, and rolled down the window, all the while acutely aware of the girl's big spidery eyes staring at him through the dirty glass. He turned on the engine.

She waited, watching him.

He hesitated.

"Do I know you?" he finally asked.

"No." She leaned down into the open window. "But I know you." There was a ring shaped like a coffin on one of her fingers. Patrick wondered if the skeleton earrings fit inside it. She smelled sweet and slightly burned, like incense. To Patrick's dismay her black tank top fell in such a way that he could see her lacy purple bra, whether he wanted to or not. Jesus. He looked back up at her face.

Staring at him through thickly painted eyelashes, she said, "You're Patrick Cusimano. Your dad was the one who killed Ryan Czerpak."

Patrick froze.

"Ryan's family comes to my dad's worship group," the goth girl said, peering curiously past him into the backseat. "I used to babysit for them sometimes." Then she saw Patrick's face, and her blood-colored lips opened.

"Hey," she said, but before she could say anything else, Patrick heard himself growl, "Get your tits out of my car," and then his wheels spun in the gravel and she was gone. His heart was beating so fast that his ears ached.

The year before, on a warm day in June, Patrick's father had come home from work two hours late, crying and smelling like Southern Comfort. His hands were shaking and there was vomit down the front of his shirt and pants. Sitting on the couch, white-faced and bleary-eyed, he wouldn't look at either of his sons. Holy god, he'd said, over and over again. I did it now. Jesus Christ. I sure did it now. Patrick tried to get him to say what was wrong, but his father wouldn't or couldn't answer. Patrick's brother, Mike, brought a glass of water and a clean shirt (throwing the dirty one in the wash and starting the load without even thinking about it) but the old man wouldn't touch either, just rocked back and forth and clutched his head in his callused hands, chanting the same refrain: Holy god. Holy fucking shit.

It had been Patrick, after too much of this, who went to the garage and saw the dented bumper; Patrick who smelled the hot gasoline-and-copper tang in the air; Patrick who stared for a long time at the wetness that looked like blood before reaching out to touch it and determine that, yes, it was blood. Patrick who realized that the tiny white thing lodged in the grille wasn't gravel but a tooth, too small to have come from an adult mouth. It had been Patrick who had realized that somebody somewhere was dead.

Up until that point, there were two things that Patrick could count on to be true: the old man was a drunk, and the old man screwed up. And as far as Patrick was concerned, the first priority was fixing it. When he worked the morning shift at the warehouse you woke up before he did so you could make the coffee and get him out the door. When he passed out on the couch you took the cigarette from his limp fingers. When he ranted--about the government that wanted to take his money, about the Chinese who wanted to take his job, about the birth control pills that had given Patrick's mother cancer and killed her--you kept your cool and had a beer yourself, and you tried to sneak away all the throwable objects so that in the morning there'd be glasses to drink from and a TV that didn't have a boot thrown through the screen. You took evasive action. You headed disaster off at the pass. You made it better. You fixed it.

Staring at the bloody car, Patrick thought, wearily, I can't fix this.

Inside, Mike, his eyes wide with panic, said, No, little brother, hang tight, we can figure this out. Just wait. Even though there was nothing to figure out. All through that night into the gray light of dawn and on until the shadows disappeared in the midday sun, the three of them hunkered down in the living room, the old man sniveling and stuttering and saying things like Jesus, I wish I still had my gun, I ought to just go ahead and kill myself, and Mike--who would not even go into the garage, who point-blank refused--trying to force the reality of the situation into some less horrible shape. The longer they sat, the more it felt like debating the best way to throw themselves under a train. Patrick, it seemed, was the only one who realized that there was no best way. You just jumped. That was all. You jumped.

So, at one o'clock in the afternoon, Patrick called the police. Nineteen hours had elapsed between his father's return home and Patrick's phone call. He'd thought it through: they couldn't afford a private lawyer, and the old man couldn't get a public defender until he'd been charged. When the police arrived, the detective came back from the garage with a steely, satisfied expression on his face. We've been looking for you, he said to the old man, and all the old man did was nod.

Patrick remembered very little about what happened after that. Except that Mike said, Jesus, Pat--nobody had called Patrick Pat since he was ten years old--he's our dad.

Well, it's almost over now, Patrick said.

He had been wrong. It was just starting. None of Patrick's friends had explicitly told him they didn't want to hang out anymore; the cop who came into Zoney's every night had never said, I'm keeping my eye on you, Cusimano; like father like son. The supervisor at the warehouse where all three Cusimanos had worked had never suggested the remaining two find other jobs (and in fact, Mike still worked there). But always, from the very beginning, Patrick had read a sudden wariness in people, as if bad luck was catching and he was a carrier. The sidelong glances and pauses in conversation that stretched just a beat too long; the police cruisers that seemed to drive past their house on Division Street more often than they once had, or linger in the rearview a block longer than was reasonable; the weird sense of disengagement, of nonexistence, when cashiers and waitresses and bank clerks who saw his name on his credit card or paycheck couldn't quite seem to focus their eyes on him. Like he was nonstick, made of Teflon, and their gazes couldn't get purchase.

Nothing overt. Nothing you could point to. Just a feeling. If he'd never bought the newspaper at the SuperSpeedy, it wouldn't have come to anything more than that. He could just have bulldozed through, like Mike, waiting for people to get over it. He'd avoided coverage of the accident as much as he could. He didn't want to see the roadside shrine, with its creepy collection of plastic flowers and cellophane-shrouded teddy bears that wouldn't ever be played with, and he didn't want to see the kid's stricken mother holding a photo of her dead kid in the bedroom where he'd never sleep again. He'd bought the paper that day because his job at the warehouse had already started to feel impossible, but he hadn't taken anything from the rack but the classifieds. It hadn't occurred to him that the obituaries would be in the same section. Even if it had, it wouldn't have occurred to him that the kid's obit would still be running a month after the accident.

But he'd turned a page and there it was, oversized in the middle of all that sad muted eight-point death. Until then he hadn't actually seen the dead kid's photograph. Looking at it, at the kid's gap-toothed first grader grin, he'd felt--not bad, bad was his new normal. He'd felt worse. He wouldn't have thought that was possible.

The obit listed a memorial website, where you could make donations for the family. It took a few days for him to work up to it but eventually Patrick had suggested to Mike that they give some money. Anonymously, of course. Not out of guilt, although that was certainly part of it; more out of a sense that here was a thing, albeit a small thing, that could be done. But Mike, who had been drinking beer and watching Comedy Central in near silence ever since the accident, had only glared. For a moment, Patrick had thought his brother might hit him.

Instead, Mike had asked why the hell they would do that, since it wasn't like the old man had killed the kid on purpose. And it wasn't like they had any money to spare--only the old man had made full-time union wages, and losing his paycheck had hurt them badly--and it also wasn't like anybody was offering them free money, were they? "Fuck the kid, fuck his fucking family, and fuck you," Mike had said. "Dad's going to be in jail for fifteen years. They don't get anything else."

Determined to send the money anyway, Patrick had used one of the computer terminals in the public library so Mike wouldn't catch him, typing in the web address with his almost-maxed credit card ready to go. He'd scrolled down the page past the kid's picture, trying not to feel cynical about the sappy graphics and badly rhymed poetry (My broken heart can only cry, I pray to God and ask Him why) and looking for the donation link. He'd found the other one first.

Click here for more information about John Cusimano and his sons.

Gravity had done something weird just then. Patrick had felt like his limbs might float away from his body, but he clicked, anyway.

No flickering candles on this page. No sweet angels with electronic wings gently flapping. No poetry, no flowers, and most of all, no grinning first grader. The page he'd landed on was stark white, with red and black lettering: double underscore, bold, italic, and very, very angry. And it wasn't about the old man. It was about him and Mike.

John Cusimano's two ADULT SONS, Michael and Patrick, were alone with him for NINETEEN HOURS after their father KILLED RYAN!! The car that took our Precious Baby away SAT IN THEIR GARAGE COVERED IN RYAN'S BLOOD and they DIDN'T BOTHER TO CALL THE POLICE!! They washed their father's clothes to DESTROY THE EVIDENCE!! Call the Janesville County District Attorney's office and demand that they be charged as ACCOMPLICES AFTER THE FACT!!! DO NOT LET THESE MONSTERS GET AWAY WITH MURDER!!!

There was a photo, which Patrick had already seen when it ran in the local paper, of the brothers leaving the courthouse after the arraignment. There was also a message board. Patrick had known he shouldn't read it.

Michael and Patrick Cusimano you will burn in hell forever.

Those boys better hope they never meet me in a dark alley. Once upon a time somebody would have GOT A ROPE already.

In twenty years monsters like this will be ruling the country. This is what happens when you take prayer out of the schools.

Only one (anonymous) poster had said anything even remotely positive--I knew Mike and Patrick in high school and I thought they were nice, I am so sorry to Ryan's family but Mike and Patrick are suffering too--and the responses had not been generous.

It is obvious you do not have children and I hope you never do!

If you think their nice your probably just as evil as they are. I notice your not using your real name.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
“Kelly Braffet is the real deal.  Save Yourself is an electrifying, tomahawk missile of a thriller with honest-to-God people at its core. It rocks the house.” —Dennis Lehane, author of Live by Night
“Kelly Braffet’s Save Yourself is that rare and beautiful thing—a novel that takes us to dark places not just through vivid storytelling but also through keen emotional force. It’s a tale of damaged families and the perilous weight of the past, and as the action rushes towards its chilling conclusion, you’ll find yourselves breathless, shaken, moved.” —Megan Abbott, author of Dare Me
“Astonishing.  Save Yourself goes deep into the hidden and shameful parts of grief, love, and anger, and the reader emerges shaken and grateful on the far end. It’s a lacerating read, and proves that Braffet is a writer in full command of her many, many talents.” —Emma Straub, author of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures

Meet the Author

KELLY BRAFFET is the author of Josie and Jack and Last Seen Leaving. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University, where she received her MFA. Kelly lives in upstate New York with her husband, the writer Owen King.

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Save Yourself: A Novel 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Braffet weaves a tale of complicated relationships between sisters, brothers, fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, of conflicted love and wanting to fit in. There are times when you want to look away but you don’t, times when you want to wave a magic wand and make everything better but you can’t, times when you want to shout at the characters “don’t do that!”, but it doesn’t do any good. The one thing you won’t want to do is put the book down. Save Yourself is a compelling story by a very talented writer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The well-developed characters of Save Yourself are, unfortunately, a believable subset of our society. This dark and compelling novel illustrates the traumatic effects of bullying, not only from the schoolyard but also from the community; peer pressure from many levels. Braffet's third novel is another page-turner from a talented storyteller.
ABookishGirlBlog More than 1 year ago
Poor Patrick not only did he have to call the cops on his own dad but the only family he has left, his brother, thinks that everything that happened was all Patrick's fault needless to say Patrick withdrawals inside himself. Then Layla who is extremely confused and overly blunt, I mean way past rude, walks into Patrick's life. Layla begins an obsession for Patrick that walks the fine line between scary and full blown stalker. Meeting Layla changes Patrick's life for the better but not till after a shotgun gets waved around at him and he ends up shot. My favorite character was Caro, she had a messed up past but she was searching for love and normalcy none the less, she was very easy to relate to. I was not expecting the ending to turn out like it did it took me for a complete surprise I thought the ending would be Mike, who is Patrick's brother, hurting or killing Patrick but I was wrong. Recommended for: Those who enjoy a book with dark thoughts and some messed up teenage angst (over the top, really). 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ellie & America <br>Flora & Canada <br>Dawn & Cori <br>Natsu & Chelsea <br>Seven & Finn <p>I think that's everyone??
Lindsie More than 1 year ago
This was a dark book. It centers around 4 people who live dysfunctional lives that intertwine with one another. It left me with many questions while reading- who was at fault for the mess within the story, which parents were the worst, which characters can I feel something for, which characters do I hate the most etc. This book was hard for me because while it was compelling in some aspects, others made me wonder why I bothered reading it in the first place. Anyway, here&rsquo;s the scoop: What I liked: 1. I liked how Braffet gave each of the characters a voice. Each chapter centered around the character of the moment so readers were really able to get to know them and see WHY things happened the way they did. 2. I liked the writing style. Braffet knows how to keep readers engaged in the story even when we want to hate what is happening. 3. I liked how Braffet was able to bring all the characters together for a climax that literally has us hanging on the edge of our seats. Readers essentially have no clue what is going to happen next and this alone gives the story an extra star for me. 4. I like how &ldquo;real life&rdquo; the story could be. You never know what is going on in other people&rsquo;s lives or heads so prior to passing judgements you should think before you act towards someone else. This seems like a pretty good lesson from the book even though it&rsquo;s not necessarily shown. What I Didn't Like: 1. I really had a hard time getting into the story. I feel like Braffet spend a little too much time in each chapter describing the character&rsquo;s lives. To me, it was just really slow and I didn&rsquo;t really look forward to finishing the book. 2. I don&rsquo;t like how the story only started to get interesting in the last 30 pages. Yes, it took 280 pages to get me to like the book. Maybe it&rsquo;s just me but I just got really bored with the story after the first 100 pages until the end when the real climax happened. 3. The book was real, but some of the characters were too extreme for me. When someone picks up a book they want to actually like the characters. For this one, it was too hard to like any of them. Most of them were very weak. 4. There really wasn&rsquo;t a happy ending. I suppose some would say that there was a little hope at the end but for me, it didn&rsquo;t cut it. In any event, I give the book about 3 starts. It was NOTHING like Gillian Flynn&rsquo;s books either as some have said. Yes, Flynn&rsquo;s books are dark, but the characters are much more interesting than the ones in this book. Overall rating: 3.2 Thrill Rating: 3.6 -- My Love of Books --
Lny11 More than 1 year ago
Depressing. Author did a great job of describing/explaining the characters' thoughts and feelings...none of the characters were likable though.