Bry Ann’s Saving Her is told in First Person Wistful by Sam, self-sacrificing daughter to a terminally ill mother. She literally knows no other life; she was adopted at 6 years old and her mother fell ill when she was 7. Sam dreams about a time of fun and laughter in her family, a golden age before cancer came, but that feels like the traumatized imaginings of a woman whose childhood was stolen.
Sam was never given the choice to sacrifice her entire life to keeping her mom “safe forever.” There is no nobility for her, because the decision wasn’t hers. Her role was forced on her as a child by a woman who seems powerless to do anything but be a bit sad.
I don’t doubt Sam’s mother’s suffering, but what she has done to her child is unconscionable. She is so disconnected from her destructive role in Sam’s life that she is able to say, “I’m here for you. I’m still your mom” and believe it.
What evidence do we have that Sam’s needs were ever a priority? All the support groups her mother didn’t join? All the cancer charities she never got in touch with? All the friends she never made over the years to lighten the emotional burden on Sam? She has created this tragedy with her own two hands. However much Sam’s mother loves her, little Samantha might literally have done better raised in foster homes by the state.
Sam, by virtue of not being me, can’t interpret her mother in any way but the best, and she’s incapable of forgiving any perceived fault in herself. Cancer is the villain, and if she does not defeat it, it is because she, Samantha, did not do enough. Other people are an imposition, sucking away her energy and her mother’s security. Sam is alone, doomed to fail, and with no emotional capacity to recover afterward. I am terrified for her.
Into this life sentence sails Logan Prescott, an all-singing all-dancing superstar of stage and screen. He starts out badly, proceeding from a snarky “Nothing personal, you just seem bitchy” to a wounded “When have I ever been mean to you?” in a record 24 hours. He claims to be looking for a friend, something Sam desperately needs but could hardly want less.
In his weird, rich-celebrity-bubble way, he has an anthropological interest in Sam. And if he wants a hard lesson in real life, there is nobody better qualified to give him one upside his beautiful head. Logan Prescott seems to be from a sweeter romance novel and he is trying to live one: shows of wealth, demonstrations of assertive masculinity, the bold seizing of love whether he has earned it or not. Sam is from the filing cabinet of a burned-out social worker, and she does not have time for Logan’s BS.
But Logan is used to getting what he wants, and Sam is used to being less than a person. So much so, that her first meal with Logan is one that her mother bullies her into having by implying she is a slut. Between the two of them—Logan and Mom—they manage to gaslight Sam into believing that Logan has never been anything but nice to her.
If calling her a bitch (nothing personal), buying her from her male boss like a slave, insisting on getting private time with her as payment for protecting her from the paparazzi nightmare he put her in, prying into her intensely secretive life by interrogating her co-worker, and then turning up at her house uninvited is “nice.” I’d call that “douchey.” Especially considering all the smirking.
Saving Her is a lot. The reader has to have faith that there is happiness to be found, that where there is life there is hope, and that douchiness is a curable condition in a man. Saving Her‘s emotional intensity and sincerity buy it a lot of goodwill. And then Saving Her throws all that away by going on for 100 pages after the main story ends.
A change of setting, a turnover of secondary cast, and a series of time jumps break whatever connection the reader felt to the universe of Saving Her. The everything of the novel was there. The romance came together. There was balloon drop in the reader’s heart. And then followed only silence, broken by nothing but a reviewer’s frustrated tears.