I Will Save You
is a young adult novel by Matt de la Pena that deals with the topic of teenage depression and mental illness. It tells the story of a love triangle between two runaways from a halfway house for troubled youths and a woman that they meet while spending the summer at a beach resort in California. Formerly best friends, the two boys come into conflict as the behavior of one of them turns increasingly erratic, culminating in an act of violence.
The novel, which was published in 2010, is the fourth by de la Pena and the recipient of several accolades, including being named a 2011 ALA-YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and a Junior Library Guild Selection. De la Pena himself was awarded the 2016 Newberry Medal for his work on another book for young readers.I Will Save You
opens with the narrator, Kidd, spotting his girlfriend Olivia and another boy he knows named Devon kissing on a cliff overlooking the beach where the three have been spending the summer. Kidd is motivated by jealousy to confront the pair, but he’s also worried because he knows that Devon is unstable, and he has made threatening statements about Olivia in the past. The two boys struggle, and Kidd pushes Devon over the cliff so that he falls to the beach below.
Kidd next awakens in a prison cell, where he assumes he is being held after being arrested for assaulting Devon. Through a series of flashbacks, Kidd tells the story of his abusive parents, as well as the events of the summer that led to him fighting with Devon.
While still a teenager, Kidd’s mother kills his abusive father and then herself. Orphaned, Kidd is sent to a halfway house for troubled boys, where he is diagnosed with PTSD and depression. He also meets another boy at the house named Devon, and the two become fast friends. Devon is mercurial and self-destructive, prone to alternating bouts of mania and depression. He is also a petty criminal, and attempts to involve Kidd in shoplifting, vandalism, and fighting. Kidd tries to resist his anti-social behavior but still finds himself drawn in and serving as Devon’s accomplice.
His favorite councilor, Maria, urges Kidd to cut Devon out of his life, but Kidd never quite manages to do so. When Maria is fired from the halfway house due to budget cuts, Kidd runs away and finds a job working for Red, the groundskeeper at a beach campground in Cardiff on the Sea, California. Red used to date Maria and knows Kidd well. He serves as a mentor and father figure to Kidd while they work together.
Kidd develops an intense crush on Olivia, a high school student who is spending the summer at the beach with her friends. Olivia is from a wealthy family which affords her many more opportunities than Kidd has, but she also finds herself buckling under the high expectations of her family.
Devon resents Olivia and her wealthy friends for their privilege and seemingly easy lives. He claims that he is planning a “revolution” in which he and other underprivileged people will rise up against the upper classes. Though he tries to convince Kidd to abandon his friendship with Olivia and join him instead, Kidd rebuffs him and deepens his relationship with Olivia.
In response, Devon ends their friendship and declares that Kidd is his enemy. He begins stalking Olivia and makes threatening advances towards her. Kidd feels that his life has much improved since he left the halfway house, but his future will not be certain until he is sure that Olivia is safe.
Eventually, the narrative returns to the scene that opened the novel, in which Kidd confronts Devon on the cliff. However, in the second retelling, the story has changed. It is Kidd who is sitting with Olivia above the beach and Devon who approaches them. Kidd is no longer sure which of them was actually pushed over the cliff.
Kidd realizes that Devon was in fact a split personality that he developed in order to cope with his mother’s death. Devon kept him company when he was lonely and also served as a vessel to contain Kidd’s antisocial and violent impulses. By throwing Devon over the cliff, Kidd has symbolically freed himself from the past and realized that he no longer needs the psychological crutch that Devon provided him.
Waking up in the hospital, surrounded by close friends he has made over the summer, Kidd decides that he now has the strength to face the future and build a life for himself without Devon’s interference. Though he now has to let Olivia go so that she can finish school, her support has given him the confidence that he needs to do that, secure in the knowledge that they will make happy lives whether they find each other again or not.