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)
(Above suggestions are from a YALSA blog post)
No Man's Land by S. T. Underdahl (Flux)
(Suggested by Amy @ Book Loving Mom)
This Is Not a Drill by Beck McDowell (Nancy Paulsen)
I loved that Travis had flaws in Something Like Normal. He really did feel real and I enjoyed reading his story because of that. I haven't read Personal Effects yet but it's one I look forward to. :)ReplyDelete
I love flawed characters too!Delete
I didn't think Travis deserved Harper either although I was very absorbed in his story. Just the way he interacted with his ex-gf and other people left me with the impression that he wasn't quite the guy Harper deserved and I wanted better for her.ReplyDelete
I think there's hope for Travis!!! I hope Harper sticks it out. Yes, we are talking about them like they are real people!Delete
Something Like Normal sounds like an awesome book! It kind of sucks that Travis doesn't really deserve Harper though. But I'm really curious to see how the story unfolds, so I'll probably read the book at some point. :)ReplyDelete
Definitely read it!!!Delete
He definitely messes up -- a lot -- but at heart I think he's really a good guy.
I haven't read any of these so I have some real catching up to do!ReplyDelete
They're all really good!Delete
I love the sound of Personal Effects! At first I didn't pay ,much attention to it, but now I'm excited to read it! And I loved how flawed the characters in Something Like Normal were. Even though I thought Harper deserved better than Travis too, they still had a connection and I still rooted for them to be together. :)ReplyDelete
I definitely rooted for them. Guys can be lunkheads sometimes. Just the way it is.Delete
Great reviews!! They both sound like really great books. I recently read No Man's Land by S.T. Underdahl and that was about how a family deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's also told from the male POV. I thought it was a great book.ReplyDelete
Will add that to the list!Delete
I want to read both of these so bad! I'm definitely reading Personal Effects as soon as I get home from LA. I pre-ordered it and I should finally have time for it in December (fingers crossed).ReplyDelete
I'm also looking forward to catching up on some reading over the next month!Delete
I've loved all the books you mentioned excpet I haven't read Personal Effects yet, and I just put on my wishlist and In Honor which I have and can't wait to read.ReplyDelete
Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog
They're all really good!Delete
I haven't read either if these books yet, but now I'm adding them to my wish list. Something Like Normal sounds amazing. I'm interested to see what seeing the world through Travis's eyes is like! Great reviews!ReplyDelete
Jesse @ Pretty In Fiction
He's a really great guy narrator! Let me know what you think!Delete
I have not heard of, or seen, BATTLE DRESS before. Interesting!!ReplyDelete
Yeah, it's cool to have a female protagonist.Delete
Both sound like very emotional books. I think having a loved one in the military would be extremely difficult. I am very curious about Personal Effects and what secrets he uncovers!ReplyDelete
I know. I think having to worry about a child or a sibling in the military must be very difficult, even though you would be proud of them too.Delete
I haven't read "Personal Effects", but I loved "Something Like Normal". After reading that one, I'm looking forward to reading more from this author. The other book sounds good too. I'll have to add that one to my TBR. I have "In Honor" on my TBR as well :-)ReplyDelete
All great books!Delete
These both sound sweet and i think tissues may be required. Great reviews!ReplyDelete
Tears were definitely shed reading all of them!Delete
I enjoyed Something Like Normal way more than I expected to, especially considering how douchey Travis was in the beginning. I'm loving all of your suggested reading, too...I've actually got In Honor on my shelf. (I picked it up because I, too, love to wear sundresses with cowboy boots. :D) I've really enjoyed this series, Jen! I'm considering picking up Personal Effects, too, now.ReplyDelete
I love the sundress and boots thing, but I never feel I can pull that off. Maybe if I lived in Texas.....Delete
Aw, I just loved Travis SO much. I loved how imperfect he was, he felt like a REAL DUDE. Like any number of the ones I grew up with. Watching him and Harper's relationship develop was just awesome. I can't wait to read more by Trish Doller:)ReplyDelete
I really want to read In Honor. I've heard really great things about it:)
LOVE Jessi Kirby's books!!!Delete