Author: Trish Doller
Genre: YA, tough stuff, contemporary
Publication Date: July 19, 2012 (North America – Bloomsbury USA Children’s)
Source: NetGalley/Bloomsbury USA e-ARC
Summary: When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.
☆: 4/5 – a stunning YA contemporary debut that’s not light-hearted but will give you hope in the end.
Review: Okay, I’ll say it because it needs to be said – we need more books like this in YA. Completely unflinching and talking about what so much of my generation (and the generation after me, to a certain extent) are experiencing in how war is done now (compared to earlier YA books published on the subject), “Something Like Normal” gives us a very strong hero with some very serious issues making his life hell. Just for broaching the subject of the after affects of fighting in Afghanistan, this book makes my best of 2012 list, but what Doller adds to the mix makes it further deserving of that place on the list.
What Doller does that completely makes Travis a sympathetic hero is the further mess of things he comes home to after the war – his brother stealing his girlfriend, his father cheating on his mother, and his mother considering filing divorce papers. Everything is so bad that Travis almost wants to be back in Afghanistan – because, as he says in one part of the book, he friends he made while serving in Kilo Company “are his family”. I love that Doller isn’t afraid to kill her darlings over and over to get the desired emotional payoff, and for a debut, she does it wonderfully here. She didn’t have to add the rest of the crazy debris that’s doing damage to Travis’ civilian life – she could have focused just on the souvenirs that war leaves behind on all soldiers. But she didn’t and I love that she took a risk and went with making his life even more hellish than it already was.
What’s also wonderful about this book is that no character is black or white in terms of the good/bad spectrum. Everyone has their faults. Everyone has their weaknesses. And while some are closer to others on the good parts of the spectrum (and the bad parts too, respectively). Travis is weak when he comes home – he’s angry with his brother and with Paige and gives into her charm because he’s desperate for comfort. He later stands up to her, in what I thought was one of the best scenes in the book, so he can protect the fragile happiness he has with Harper. His father was good to him when he followed his rules, and cruel when he didn’t. Everyone is humanized, no matter how terrible they may seem. This makes the characters feel so 3D, I could swear they were sitting next to me reading along. Doller does this well, so she gets props for it.
Finally, worldbuilding – I’ve said in other reviews that I think that even in a contemporary setting, worldbuilding matters. Doller does it brilliantly here to shrinking the world just around Travis and Afghanistan in an inverse kind of globe, but then slowly, as he starts to heal and get used to being home, starts to expand it to include Florida. I love that she expanded this inverse globe, and didn’t just keep it focused on one area or character but gradually had it include everyone. It’s a very real world that goes from internal to external as Travis learns how to cope with his best friend’s death, with being away from Afghanistan, and from dealing with his PTSD.
So, if you’re looking for a more serious book to read this summer, pick up “Something Like Normal”. It’s not the happiest of books, but I think, in the end, it’ll give you hope. “Something Like Normal” hits stores June 19, 2012 in North America from Bloomsbury USA Children’s, so be sure to check it out then! It’s definitely worth the read.