In honor of Veteran's Day on Sunday, November 11, I'm running a short review series called YA on the Homefront. I'll be looking at three recently published YA contemporary books that feature stories about characters who are serving in the military.
Thursday I featured If I Lie by Corrine Jackson -- you can read my review here.
Today, I'm looking at Personal Effects by E. M. Kokie and Something Like Normal by Trish Doller. Each of these books are narrated by a male character. Both characters have fathers they can't relate to, and both are coming to terms with the death of someone close to them.
by E.M. Kokie
Published by Candlewick Press
on September 11, 2012
My summary: Since the news of his brother's death in Iraq, Matt has been angry. He's angry at his overbearing father, who's unwilling to talk about T.J.'s death, angry at his classmates and their t-shirts with anti-war slogans, angry at the world in general. Then the army delivers three of T.J's footlockers to the house. Behind his father's back, Matt starts secretly going through T.J.'s stuff, trying to find some kind of meaning in his brother's life and death. What he finds will surprise him.
My take: Matt has a lot to deal with. His father drinks too much, his mother walked out, and now his brother has been killed in combat. He does have a friend -- a girl named Shauna who he's been close to since childhood. After he gets kicked out of school for a fight that wrecked a glass trophy case, he's able to secretly go through his brother's belongings. At first, he just wants some happy memories of his brother and a sense of closure. But when he opens the trunks, he finds out that his brother has been keeping a big secret from him. To unravel the secret, he'll have to use the money he's saved to pay for the wrecked glass case.
I don't want to say too much more, because part of my enjoyment of this book was watching Matt go through the trunks and try to figure things out. Matt's relationship with Shauna had just the right awkward friends-who-maybe-could-be-more kind of feel. Seeing how T.J.'s death affected so many others was very moving. I definitely recommend this book!
Something Like Normal
by Trish Doller
Published by Bloomsbury Childrens
on June 19, 2012
My summary: Travis is home from Afghanistan, trying to put his life back together. A lot has happened since he shipped out: his girlfriend has moved on, his parents are splitting up, and he's trying to deal with the death of his best friend.
My take: While the protagonists in Personal Effects and If I Lie are the loved ones of service members, in Something Like Normal, we get the perspective of the soldier himself. His military experience aside, Travis is one of those characters with a lot of growing up to do. But I liked the fact that he kept messing up -- it made him seem very real. Though his ex-girlfriend is clearly bad news, Travis keeps going back to her. When he strikes up a tentative relationship with Harper, a girl he owes a huge apology due to an incident back in middle school, I wanted him to pull himself together and be the guy Harper deserved. He doesn't, and I think Harper puts up with him a little too much and their relationship moved a little too fast.
With all his flaws, Travis is a character I really rooted for. He has a jerk of a dad, a brother who betrayed him, and is carrying around a huge load of guilt about the death of his best friend, Charlie. Something Like Normal is a moving book with a flawed yet appealing main character and an against-the-odds romance.
If you've read and loved these, here are three more suggestions -- click on the photos to find out more. If you have other recommendations, leave them in comments!
Here are even more suggestions:
Somebody Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Levangis (Simon & Schuster)
This is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees (Bloomsbury)
Dear Blue Sky by Mary Sullivan (Nancy Paulsen)
No Man's Land by S. T. Underdahl (Flux)
This Is Not a Drill by Beck McDowell (Nancy Paulsen)