Travis is on leave from Afghanistan. He arrives to find things very much changed: his parents are splitting up, his brother is sleeping with his girlfriend and has taken possession of his car, and he’s not sleeping because he keeps having nightmares about his friend’s death. When he runs into Harper, a girl he humiliated in middle school, things start to turn around. The two begin to hang out, and he begins to figure out how to deal with everything going on in his life.
Trish Doller’s YA novel about a marine coming to grips with what he’s seen in war and what he’s seeing at home is a standout title for contemporary YA. A gripping first-person narrative with vivid characters and a steamy romance makes this a book that should appeal to male and female readers alike. Doller is an author to watch.
The book’s standout achievement is the authenticity of Travis’s voice. His first-person narration is one of the most authentic male voices I’ve ever read in YA. The present tense allows the reader to get right into Travis’s head and allows for a certain amount of immediacy in his thoughts and actions. As Travis slowly reveals the amount of damage he’s suffered in Afghanistan–both to himself and the reader–things start to become more and more clear.
It helps that the book’s other characters are well-drawn, as well. Harper is fully three-dimensional, with her own experiences and problems and things to sort out. Travis’s mom and his dad are also exceedingly well done, and the characters each have their own arcs, despite the novel’s rather short length.
Although there are a few things that feel like they’re almost too much (Travis’s mother’s sudden change comes to mind), readers are going to be willing to accept them at face value because this is such a moving story. I couldn’t put this book down, and my guess is it’ll be the same for most readers. This is really excellent fiction, and well worth a reader’s time.
Something Like Normal by Trish Doller. Bloomsbury USA Children’s: 2012. Library copy.