cover image Save Your Own

Save Your Own

Elisabeth Brink, . . Houghton Mifflin, $23 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-618-65114-6

Gillian Cormier-Brandenburg will lose her Harvard Divinity School fellowship if she doesn't get to work on her dissertation project, an ambitious examination of "secular conversion experiences," in this sweet, well-premised but feeble debut novel. To procure conversion narratives, Gillian becomes a supervisor to 12 recovering addicts at Responsibility House, a residential treatment program for women. Gillian wants to keep her stipend, but, at 26, she also desperately wants to lose her virginity, and she's hoping the women of Responsibility House will show her the ropes while providing narrative fodder. Intellectual and homely, Gillian contrasts sharply with the roughshod residents, from whom she finds herself seeking approval; she also finds herself lusting after a Harley-riding house resident named Janet. Brink's heroine is developed enough to be believable, but her relationships with the residents are not, particularly in their wooden exchanges. Gillian's attempts to gain the acceptance and trust of Janet and the other women, while giving them another fair shot at life, fall at cross-purposes with the strict rules of the halfway house. That conflict plays out over and over, as Gillian's repetitive moral posturing presents questions that are compelling but that can't carry the book. (June 6)