I Will Save You by Matt de la Peña
I Will Save You opens with a startling scene as Kidd Ellison appears to throw himself and his old frenemy, Devon, into wild danger in an irrational attempt to save Olivia, the girl he loves, from Devon.
The danger that Kidd sees is not apparent to the reader. As Kidd finds himself in deep trouble for his actions, he moves through the past and through dreams and hallucinations to explain how he knows that Olivia was in serious danger–and why he had to do what he did.
Kidd has run away from Horizons, a home for kids who have experienced trauma. Early in the novel, the reader understands what some of the trauma is as it’s clear that Kidd’s father was abusive. But just how much trauma Kidd has undergone, the horror of it, comes to light slowly.
Kidd decides to go to Cardiff-by-the-Sea and work with Mr. Red maintaining the campsite where wealthier teens spend the summer. There Kidd meets Olivia, whom he finds beautiful (even though she is always hiding the side of her face under a ski cap) and smart. She’s quiet and introspective. The two have wonderful and honest conversations and appear to be falling in love. But just as things are looking up for Kidd, Devon appears on the scene, hoping to convince Kidd that Olivia, who has led a much more privileged life, is an enemy and can’t truly feel anything for Kidd. While Kidd would like to seek advice from Mr. Red, the campsite manager is dealing with his own demons. He had once been a pro surfer, but became an alcoholic after the tragic loss of his son. Though he’s been sober for years, every day is a challenge to him. Unable to seek help, Kidd attempts to manage the unmanageable alone.
High school housekeeping: At a little over 300 pages, I Will Save You is a little longer than some ‘reluctant reader’ recommendations. However, the story is weird and powerful in a way that will appeal to guys (and girls as well) who have had difficult lives and don’t know how to straighten them out. It’s an easy read–the Lexile level is 770–but this novel doesn’t have the tidy ending that many easy reads have. So, you have a book that calls for thoughtful examination of a situation and an ending that is open–not so much to interpretation, but to discussion about Kidd–and yet is accessible to readers of all levels. Because it will make you think of life’s many imperfections and shows the reader how even a kid with many strikes against him can act with love and courage, I recommend this book to all teen readers.