Publication Date: June 19, 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 214 (ARC)
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.
Wow. I don't even know what to say about this book. I was expecting to enjoy it, but I wasn't expecting to love it nearly as much as I did. This review is going to be short (well, short for me, at least) and to the point--sort of like the book. This story just caused too many feels for me to elaborate properly. It's rare a book shuts me up, you guys know that.
Travis is on a month look leave from the marines after spending some time in Afghanistan. Near the end of his first tour, his best friend died and he hasn't been himself since. His life seems to be falling apart even more when he returns home. His parents are on the brink of a divorce, his ex-girlfriend that left him for his younger brother while he was away won't leave him alone, his younger brother is still desperately trying to steal his life and his friends, and he isn't the Travis that left months earlier. He is desperately yearning to discover what it's like to be normal. And Harper may be the only girl who can bring normality to his world.
I loved Harper. She showed Travis mercy in a time of desperation. He's struggling really badly from post traumatic stress disorder and while most girls would have kicked him aside for treating her the way he did so many years ago, she gave him a chance. I respected that immensely and it made me love her, but that love only intensified when I learned that she's an all-around awesome girl who loves turtles. See, I have a stuff turtle from when I was two months old. If you love turtles, I love you. But that's beside the point, she's very relaxed and non-judgmental. She's caring and unique. She's simply a good person, and I think it's rare where we find people so pure in young adult fiction.
In contrast to her, we have our main character, Travis. Though his life is twisted, his heart is in the right place. He's rooting for his mother who he genuinely loves, even though he doesn't know how to express it. He misses his old life, but is happy that he found something that he's good at...even if that means risking his life everyday to fight for his country. He has this awesome, dry sense of humor and an amazing sense of honor that makes him one of the best friends anyone can ask for, but he's messed up. He won't admit he has post traumatic stress disorder and watching him suffer is terrible. Because this story is told in his perspective, our temporary book reality bends really easily whenever he starts hallucinating. Such an experience is jarring as a reader, I can't imagine how terrible it is in real life.
This book paints an achingly real picture of what it is like for war veterans, both young and old. The rates of post traumatic stress disorder are soaring today. Suicide is too often occurring among army vets because they are struggling so much that they don't know how to re-assimilate into society. The raw struggles that this book paints and makes us feel in so few pages is unbelievably powerful and emotional. I've never appreciated those who risk their lives to protect me more. It sheds some light on a serious issue today, and it does it well. While I tend to avoid books about war, this is a book that I'm so happy I read. Also, Travis's army buddies rock, even if they are sex starved.
Lastly, I want to take a moment to talk about Travis's mother. While his father absolutely sucks and thinks he's all high and mighty because he used to play for the Green Bay Packers
which irks me because I am a Giants fan, his mother is a true mother. She's the way a mother is in real life and we need more mother's like her in young adult literature. She loves Travis to pieces and created her life around his existence. If he was playing sports, she was the ultimate soccer mom. When he went to Afghanistan she spent all her time working to put together care packages to make his struggle as simple as possible. She wanted her son to be happy, even if the worst of places. She'd do anything for him, and watching him struggle tore her to pieces. His pain hurt her more than her own. It was so refreshing to see a mother like this, and I applaud Doller for that.
All in all, I think this is a must read. For such a short story it is so powerful. It is raw and easily turns you into an emotional mess. I highly recommend it to everyone, and I'm excited at the prospect of picking up any of Doller's other books.