David confronts his desires and his demons in this novel about what it means to be left behind—literally, figuratively, and spiritually—from the author of the Shade trilogy.
Everyone mourns differently. When his older brother was killed, David got angry. As in, fist-meets-someone-else’s-face furious. But his parents? They got religious. David’s still figuring out his relationship with a higher power, but there’s one thing he knows for sure: The closer he gets to Bailey, the better, brighter, happier, more he feels.
Then his parents start cutting all their worldly ties in preparation for the Rush, the divine moment when the faithful will be whisked off to Heaven…and they want David to do the same. David’s torn. He likes living in the moment, and isn’t sure about giving up his best friend, varsity baseball, and Bailey—especially Bailey—in hope of salvation.
But when he comes home late from prom, and late for the Rush, to find that his parents have vanished, David is in more trouble than he ever could have imagined…
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This Side of Salvation
If this were the last night of my life, I could be at peace with that.
That, and everything else, as I walk hand in hand with Bailey out of the pool house and back into the blare of the party. Her long hair brushes my elbow, stirring memories of reaching, fumbling in the dark; memories so fresh they feel more like dreams—not etched as events in my past but posed as possibilities in my future.
Future. A word that stumbles off my tongue lately, like a phrase in a new foreign language.
The sandstone clock on the side of the pool house shows four minutes after two. The final hour.
I try to put myself in the place of my parents and the others who think the Rapture will take place in fifty-six minutes. They’re waiting for that moment when the true believers, living and dead, will be raised up from earth before all hell literally breaks loose.
Are they scarfing their favorite foods—pizza, cheesesteaks, TastyKakes—or are they already dreaming of that heavenly banquet? Are they playing their favorite tunes on infinite loop, or are they dreaming of that angelic choir? Are they having sex (not my parents—the thought makes me gag), or are they dreaming of that divine embrace?
Part of me wishes I’d never lost that all-consuming hunger. My soul still craves the unseen, unflinching love that was there for me in my darkest hours. Sometimes my lungs still need it to breathe. But even the sweetest faith can taste sour when it’s used as poison.
Bailey and I return to our towels, spread on the lawn not far from the gazebo where three seniors are karaoke-ing the prom’s theme song. It’s a bouncy, triumphant tune that idolizes our bright future.
End of the world or not, things change tonight. I can feel it in my bones, in my skin, and every cell in between. The future is mine again.
Bailey stretches out beside me, then slips on the corsage I gave her. The red rose doesn’t match her pink-and-blue paisley bikini, but she doesn’t care. As she inhales the rose’s scent, her blue-gray eyes smile at me through the sprigs of baby’s breath.
On my other side, my best friend, Kane, is too preoccupied with his prom date to notice we’ve returned. Or maybe he knows that anything he said right now, after where Bailey and I have been, would embarrass us (by “us,” I mean me).
I lie down on my back and take Bailey’s hand, feeling the itch of flowers against my wrist. I should tell her I need to leave soon, but this moment’s fragile perfection won’t allow words, especially not those that speak of limits.
So I close my eyes as sounds of the night wash over me. In the gazebo, my sister, Mara, belts out a Florence + the Machine song, to the delight of the crowd. To my right, Bailey hums along softly. To my left, Kane and Jonathan-not-John laugh together, then kiss, then laugh again. It feels like the whole world is happy.
• • •
I hear the wahp-wahp of sirens, see the blue-and-red strobe of lights through my eyelids, and realize that I am dead. Not heaven-bound dead, cashing in on my undeserved eternal ecstasy. Dead as in, if I’ve missed curfew—and therefore the non-end of the world—my dad is going to kill me.
Here on Stephen Rice’s lawn, “busted” echoes in a dozen panicky voices. I sit up quickly as barely dressed juniors and seniors scurry past, tripping over scattered beach towels, pouring out the contents of their plastic cups. I pity the grass its imminent hangover.
“David, the cops are here. Are you sober?”
I turn to blink at Kane, sitting beside me. His sharp blue eyes examine my face. On his other side, Jonathan-not-John looks ready to run, but for Kane’s reassuring hand on his arm.
Bailey asked me that same question earlier. I’d said yes, when it was most important.
It’s still true. “Yeah, I fell asleep.” I fumble for my phone, before remembering I didn’t bring it with me. “What time is it?”
“A little after three.” His eyes widen. “Uh-oh. Were you supposed to be home at—”
“Two thirty. In time for—wait.” I look down at my hand, palm pressing grass that’s still green and alive. In the clear sky above the pool, stars are shining, not falling.
No trumpet blasts. No demon locusts from hell. No horses with lion heads and serpent tails shooting flames and smoke and sulfur from their mouths. My parents’ dream of the End Times—and my recurring nightmare—is a big fat no-show. Hallelujah.
But I’m still late. I twist to my right to kiss Bailey good-bye, since I’ll probably be grounded for weeks.
She’s gone. Her abandoned corsage lies in the middle of her bright yellow towel.
“Where’s Bailey?” I ask Kane.
“Maybe in the bathroom? I didn’t see her leave. Hey, don’t panic. There’s no law against being at a party that has booze if they can’t prove you drank it.”
“I had one sip an hour ago.”
He laughs at my concern. “By this point, that’s the same as none.”
The cops enter the backyard through the front gate of the tall wooden privacy fence and onto the patio through the sliding glass door, blocking off two escape routes.
Not the third, though. The partygoers stream toward the back gate, where I came in, behind the pool house.
“David!” Mara lurches toward me in her short, black prom gown, silver sequins flashing in the light from the tiki torches. “We need to go. Now!”
No need to ask why. It’s obvious where my sister got the courage for that balls-to-the-wall karaoke performance that was thrilling the crowd when I fell asleep. Mara is hammered. She may be a year older than I am, but at seventeen she’s still way underage. If I don’t get her out of here, we’ll have bigger problems than angry parents.
But I’m barefoot and wearing borrowed swim trunks. “My clothes are in the pool house.”
“I’ll bring them to you tomorrow.” Kane hands me his sandals. “These’ll help you get through the woods without slicing your feet.”
“Thanks. If you see Bailey, tell her I’ll call her.” Assuming Mom and Dad don’t end my communication with the outside world.
“Hurry!” Mara huffs. Strands of brown hair flop in her face, remnants of her fancy prom do. She’s joined by Sam Schwartz—her date and my left fielder—who’s trying to walk and pull on his shoes at the same time.
I tighten the sandal straps and stand quickly but calmly. No sudden moves. With one last glance toward the patio, where a trio of cops are delivering Breathalyzer tests, Sam, Mara, and I slip away like ninjas.
Behind the pool house, a crowd of about a dozen swimsuit-clad prom goers are trying to cram themselves through the narrow back gate all at once.
“Stop pushing!” someone whispers.
“You stop pushing first!”
“Everyone stop pushing,” I urge through gritted teeth, checking behind me. We’ll be the last ones out—if we get out.
The crowd surges forward suddenly. In five seconds we’re at the gate and—
“You there,” a voice behind us commands. “Stop!”
Mara stops, because deep down, she’s still a good girl. I, on the other hand, have been in this situation before. I push her forward ahead of us as the literal hand of law enforcement brushes the back of my shoulder.
I don’t show the cop my face, figuring in the dark I probably look like any brown-haired guy in blue swim trunks. Without turning, I shove the gate shut behind me until the latch catches, bracing my feet against the ground. Sam helps me hold it closed against the cop. One of his friends, a burly guy whose name I forget, joins us.
“Give me that branch!” I tell Mara, pointing to the closest of the two dozen limbs lying here on the edge of the woods.
I wedge the narrow end of the thick branch under the gate to make it stick. It won’t hold for long, but it’ll buy us a head start. The privacy fence’s wooden slats are too tall and tight for the cops to see over or between.
Sam takes Mara’s hand to follow the rest of the students, who are plunging blindly into the stand of trees in front of us.
“No,” I tell her. “This way.”
Mara gives Sam a quick kiss and a wistful whispered, “Bye!”
We run to the right, past three high-fenced backyards, until we reach Kane’s house. There’s a well-worn path between his home and mine on the other side of the woods. It’s a path I could walk in my sleep—and did, in fact, walk in my sleep a few times when I was eight.
I keep my drunk sister upright as we hurry down the hill, my feet sliding in Kane’s too-big sandals. These suburban woods are as much like a real forest as a golf course is like a real meadow, so there’s no underbrush to hide behind. My bare, pale torso is an arrest me beacon in the night.
At the stream, Mara turns on her phone’s flashlight app so we can see where to step across. The makeshift bridge Kane and I built years ago—three planks of plywood nailed together (high-tech, we are)—is barely visible, dark gray against the black water beneath.
Just as we reach the other side and pass under my tree house, a shout comes from behind us, up the hill. The cops must have broken out of the Rices’ backyard.
We run toward our house. The strap of Mara’s little silver purse is wrapped around her wrist, and the bag flashes in the porch light as she wobbles on her high heels.
Please let the cops follow the other students. If you keep Mara’s record clean, I swear I’ll never sneak out again. Amen.
The house looks dark inside. Mom and Dad must be lurking in the living room, waiting to pounce.
We creep up to the patio door that leads into the sunroom. Mara unlocks it, clutching the rest of the keys together to keep them from jingling. Then she opens the door—slowly so its full-length shade doesn’t rattle—and tiptoes across the stone tiles.
In the kitchen, the only light shines over the gleaming stainless-steel sink. The counter is clear, but there’s a lingering scent of fresh-baked bread and sautéed onions. My stomach growls, and I jerk open the fridge, forgetting fear in favor of food.
Inside lie the remnants of what Mom and Dad thought was our last meal: homemade pizza. I can’t hold back a “Yes!” of triumph.
“Shh!” Mara creeps through the arched doorway into the living room.
I silence myself by stuffing a slice of onion pizza in my mouth, using its Tupperware container as a plate. The sauce is sweet and tangy, the way I love it and Mara hates it. But she got to go to prom, so we’re even.
“No lights on upstairs,” Mara whispers as she comes back into the kitchen. “It’s weird they’re not waiting up for us.”
“They’re probably embarrassed the Rush didn’t happen.”
“You think tomorrow they’ll pretend they never believed?”
“How can they?” I swallow my bite of pizza. “It meant everything.”
Mara slumps sideways against the black-granite counter and steps out of her shoes with a sigh of relief, becoming short again. “I couldn’t wait for Mom and Dad to realize we were right. But now I feel kinda bad for them.”
It seems crazy to believe in the Rapture (or the Rush, as those who thought the Rapture would happen tonight at 3 a.m. call it). But there were times when it seemed like the ideal solution. This planet is so screwed up, how could God not want to hit the universal delete key and start over? And how could He not want to save what He loved best? Kind of like Noah and the Ark, but unlike Noah, we didn’t have to build or collect anything. We just had to believe He was coming and love Him more than we loved the world.
I couldn’t do that, no matter how much I wanted to. I wanted a life more, with Bailey and baseball and my friends and even homework. It was a life I tore to shreds for my parents’ sake, but now I can reassemble what’s left. If it’s not too late.
A loud thump comes from upstairs. Mara yelps. So much for stealth.
We sidle past the table into the living room, my sister’s face reflecting my own trepidation. Not only did we miss curfew but Mara went to a prom after-party when Dad told her not to, and I snuck out of the house to go to that same party. The fact that I’m 70 percent naked and Mara’s breath reeks of beer will not help our case.
I position myself a step in front of her, to absorb the brunt of my dad’s rage, in whatever form it takes. It’s been three years since he’s had a drink, but he’ll be defeated and defiant. Getting stood up by Jesus does something to the ego.
The only sound is the clock ticking above the fireplace. Then quick footsteps pad down the carpeted stairs.
Our ginger cat, Tod, peers at us through the white wooden banister and emits a meow that verges on a bark. He leaps onto the living room floor and swaggers toward us, yapping.
Mara sweeps him into her arms. “Shh. You’ll wake Mom and Dad.”
I strain to hear movement upstairs, but there’s nothing, not even a shifting in bed. Mom always wakes at the sound of Tod’s caterwauls, if only to grumble vague threats at her beloved beast.
The house feels empty.
I hurry past Mara, who’s kissing Tod’s belly as his limbs dangle over her arms. “What’s wrong?” she says, lifting her head from the purring cat.
I kick off Kane’s sandals, then mount the stairs two at a time, afraid to speak my worst fear, as if words could bring it to life.
Our parents’ bedroom door is a few inches ajar, but the room is dark. They should be up right now, yelling at us (Dad) and heaving sighs of disappointment (Mom).
I stop at the threshold, taking in the oppressive silence, then push the door open.
Lying in the king-size, four-poster bed, under rumpled maroon-and-gold covers, are two . . . things.
I tilt my head, as if that will change their shape and state and aspect:
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready is a novel that explores death, grief, and family bonding. It is complex and deep, with a religious tone, something which the general audience may find difficult to relish. It is easy to digest stories that are inspirational in nature, but when it comes to stories with a realistic approach from a Christian perspective, it is never easy. But it has enough suspense and romance to pull in everyone. The death of his older brother John in tragic circumstances causes an upheaval in David’s life. While his parents find comfort and meaning through religious engagements, David is shattered and angry. His parents seem to ever distance themselves from David and Mara, his sister, which brought them closer to each other. Only 16 years old, David must learn to face life. One night when he and his sister returned home from a prom party their parents have vanished. Jeri Smith-Ready also weaves a romance between David and Bailey, a spirited and fun-loving girl. When David’s parents disappeared, Bailey, Mara, David and Kane, a friend of David, set off to search for them though they do not have any clue. This Side of Salvation is a compelling read with an intriguing theme. Jeri’s beautiful writing and memorable cast of characters make this novel a real treat for suspense lovers. You won’t be disappointed with this novel.
I've never read anything quite like this book. I'll be honest. It had a lot more religion in it than I expected. But it's not a story *about* religion. This is a story about a boy (and his family) struggling to deal with the aftermath of his older brother's death in Afghanistan. I've been there - I've felt grief like that. The kind of grief that makes you feel like the world is wrong somehow and you can't fathom how everyone else can't feel how *wrong* it all is. Yes, religion plays a huge role in this book, but most of all it's a remarkable story about love and loss and family and friendships and first loves. Like all her other books, the writing is beautiful and her characters are believable. That's one of the things I love best about Jeri's writing. This is Jeri's first foray into the contemporary world and I hope it's not her last.
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication Date: April 1, 2014 Rating: 4 stars Source: eARC from Edelweiss Summary (from Goodreads): Everyone mourns differently. When his older brother was killed, David got angry. As in, fist-meets-someone-else’s-face furious. But his parents? They got religious. David’s still figuring out his relationship with a higher power, but there’s one thing he does know for sure: The closer he gets to new-girl Bailey, the better, brighter, happier, more he feels. Then his parents start cutting all their worldly ties in to prepare for the Rush, the divine moment when the faithful will be whisked off to Heaven…and they want David to do the same. David’s torn. There’s a big difference between living in the moment and giving up his best friend, varsity baseball, and Bailey—especially Bailey—in hope of salvation. But when he comes home late from prom, and late for the Rush, to find that his parents have vanished, David is in more trouble than he ever could have imagined... What I Liked: Before I begin my review, I want to mention something about the religion. I saw on Goodreads that a lot of other reviewers started by saying something about their religious beliefs (or lack thereof). I don't think it's important to mention my religious beliefs, but I will say that this book does involve religion. That being said, I don't think there is a religious THEME, necessarily. But religious beliefs are crucial in this book. Do you see the difference? This isn't necessarily a religious YA novel. It's a YA novel that involves religious content. The story matters more than the actual religion, even though the religion makes the story. Basically, don't let it bother you (if religion would be something to bother you). So. After David's brother John was killed (quite terribly, I might add), David's parents turn to religion - specifically, a woman who claims that the Rapture (actually, the "Rush") is coming soon, and that the "rushing" families must prepare themselves, because the time is coming. Sounds familiar, right? There have been many cults like this, when a perhaps claims that the Rapture is coming, so sell all your worldly belongings and come follow the person! Oh, and give them all your money. David himself is a Christian, and believes in the Bible. But, he thinks the Rush is a bit ridiculous. He is with his prom date (at prom) when the Rush happens, on May 11th at 3 a.m. (I think I got that right!). When he and his sister come home (she wasn't his prom date, don't worry), they find their parents gone, with their pajamas in the bed - as if their parents' bodies simply vanished out of their clothes. I found this story very interesting, to be honest. I've read a thousand and one stories about Rapture claims and cults and so-called prophets, even all that mess with May 20th and December 20th in 2012 or whatever. I'm going to keep my beliefs out of this review (or try), but I've always believed that those cults were (and are) bogus, and are led by people who just want your money. That's how David feels, and Mara (his sister). And his girlfriend, Bailey. And his best friend Kane. And everyone. David doesn't believe in the Rush, but he agreed to give up everything - baseball, Math Cave (home-school group something), Bailey, Kane - but only if his parents would get help, if the Rush didn't happen. Crazy, right? And David actually followed through with his part of the deal. This book is split into alternating points in the story. It's told completely in David's perspective (first person, at that), but every other chapter alternates between the present time, and sometime in the past, from when John first died, to when the parents first heard of Sophie Visser and the Rush, right up until the present. I absolutely LOVE that Jeri Smith-Ready did this - and the way she constructed the two parts of the story was excellent. Usually, I hate the jumping back and forth between time (it just gets annoying and confusing after a while), but I think it really worked well in this story. Especially since the things being revealed from the past really matched up with David's thoughts as well as things happening in the present. I don't know how to explain that... trust me, it's really great. The romance in this story is simple and beautiful - I really like David and Bailey together. From the start, we know that they are the couple of the story. BUT, the flipping back and forth between the present and the past shows us how their relationship started and grew. I really like this, because it's a different way of showing readers a developing relationship. We already knew it happened, and we knew key things about the relationship from the very beginning of the book, but it's so sweet to see things progress. This is an instance in which the flipping between present and past really works. I enjoyed reading from David's perspective. He isn't quite the typical teenage boy - he's definitely a lot more religious than the vast majority of teenagers in general, he's home-schooled, but he's also a dedicated athlete (and now I think I'm obsessed with baseball players all over again... thanks, Katie McGarry and Jeri Smith-Ready!). David's personality is definitely an agreeable one, as was Mara's, Bailey's, and Kane's. I wouldn't have minded reading this book from any of their perspectives - but David's was the pertinent. The plot of this book is a bit slow, but in a good way. We get parts of the present, we get parts of the past. Not much time passes in the present, but YEARS are shown from the past. The climax of the book is obvious, but there are a few twists at the end. Overall, the plot is really solid, and the pacing is good. I'm glad this book is a standalone - it ended really well (not necessarily GOOD or BAD, but WELL). What I Did Not Like: Off the top of my head, I think the only things I might not have liked were the slow-ish plot, but it didn't bother me too much. I didn't read this book in one sitting - which usually means that I hit a boring or not-so-interesting part, and had to take a break, but eh, it happens. Overall, I'm really pleased with this book. I wasn't sure if I would like it, but I did! Would I Recommend It: This book probably isn't for everyone, I can say that now. However, I think that anyone open-minded enough to read it will at least like it! Look past the religion, and you've got a really great and intriguing story! I mean, come on, don't you want to know if David's parents were really caught up in the Rapture (excuse me, I mean, the Rush)? Read it! Rating: 4 stars. I can successfully say that I have enjoyed all of Jeri Smith-Ready's published, full-length novels! And I'll definitely be reading what she has in store for us in the future.