Score: 95+/100 (9.5+ out of 10)
Saving Sophie by Debbie Schrack is a very special book, one of our favorites of 2023! There's just something about it that packs a punch yet does it in a way that isn't full of itself or over-the-top.
It isn't a perfectly structured story. It isn't a perfectly written story. The stakes aren't world-ending or world-altering. The characters won't blow you away (in fact, we didn't even realize the main character had a name until near the end of it). However, it is what it is. And it does it so well! It hits just the right notes. It's powerful, beautiful, and compelling all at once.
Furthermore, it is such a sweet and romantic story full of humor and light. Seriously, this book is such a joy to read! It is actually very pleasant. We know that's strange to say about a work of fiction (shouldn't they all be “pleasant”), but you'd be surprised. Many books, despite their quality, can be so depressing and miserable that it starts to eat away at you.
This book, on the other hand, is hopeful, optimistic, and uplifting, even when it deals with things like incarceration, physical and mental illnesses, alcoholism, guilt, and even death. There's still an underlying feeling of warmth and comfort to it that's difficult to describe, almost like a really good family Christmas movie.
The interesting thing is that the main character isn't even that optimistic or positive of a guy. In fact, he's doubtful, apprehensive, and even angry at times. However, just about 100% of the time we're assured that all of his actions are justified by noble motives. He is a good guy, but one who is rough around the edges sometimes. Everything he says and does, whether out of anger, jealousy, or frustration, still seems 100% justified to the reader. Almost all of the time, the reader will likely conclude that they would've acted the same way and said exactly what the main character does.
And that's the thing. This book puts us directly in the main character's shoes. In a good and immersive way, he almost becomes a blank slate for us to engage with the other characters and his world. In some novels, this can be a bad thing. For example, the Twilight series infamously presents Bella as a blank slate who proves to be a relatively bland character. That is not the case with the main character of Saving Sophie.
Notice that we keep calling him the “main character.” Does he have a name? Actually, yes! But we didn't even have to know it to care about him. He's actually referred to as “Gabe.” For most of the book, interestingly, other characters refer to him as “you,” “bro,” “little buddy,” and other pronouns. So, what's fascinating is that when character talk to him, it almost reads like they're talking directly to YOU. Now, that might just be because we're idiots and completely spaced on him being called Gabe over 150 times, or maybe that's just how we felt. We were so immersed in Gabe's story that, like a video game character, we BECAME him in a sense. And it was easy because Gabe was, like we said, a good guy. He wasn't one of those first-person characters that you dread following because they make poor or immoral choices. Gabe is almost always justified in one way or another, and you understand him.
Anyway, let's finally talk about the plot (phew... it took us this long)! This book follows the aforementioned protagonist, Gabe, who was on the verge of great, big things in his life. He is a stellar student, a tutor, and is hoping to get into a good college. He really seems to be someone who longs for their place in the sun. And, for the longest time, he had a great, loving family that held firm to their traditions. All of that is seemingly derailed and shattered when Gabe's older brother, Josh, gets into a catastrophic accident. Although he escapes with his life, several others in the accident lose theirs. Among them are the Mandelas, parents to the titular Sophie—one of the school's most successful and promising students. Sophie, tragically, is inflicted with a traumatic brain injury and amnesia. Compounding this, she often experiences seizures. It is discovered that Gabe had been drinking and was intoxicated during the accident.
Several things come as a result of this accident, the two key things are:
Now, before you go off thinking that this book is just some mushy South Korean soap-opera/romance/drama, it's actually much more. In fact, it's hilarious. Gabe's thoughts (which we get the inside scoop on) are often very blunt and even crude or vulgar at times. Here are some of our favorite funny lines from the book:
“...they sell out faster than Trojans on prom night”
“And let's face it—no one can sit on one of these chairs for longer than ten minutes without getting hemorrhoids.”
“We walk to the door slowly, hand in hand, while Joe [the dog] sniffs around and pees on some bushes.”
“She stops and stares at me. Her expression goes blank. I wonder if she's going to have a seizure but Joe's just lying on the rug licking his crotch.”
“Abby's behind him wearing a black dress about the size of a square of toilet paper.”
There are so many high points of this book. So many times when we laughed or were elated with joy.
Check this out on Amazon!