Review Blog

Jul 31 2012

Something like normal by Trish Doller

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Bloomsbury, 2012. ISBN: 9781599908441.
Upper Secondary. This is an effective and economical book that achieves what it sets out to do. Not a word is wasted, and emotions are expressed in sparse yet powerful language. The male narrator's voice, both sardonic and authentic, allows readers to see inside the head of an almost-man dealing with the horrors of 21st century warfare.
Travis is 19, has just spent the last year in Afghanistan. His best friend Charlie didn't make it home, and his girlfriend has told him by text message that she is now with his brother. Little wonder that Travis is not looking forward to three weeks of enforced leave. There are nightmares, sweating, shaking, and an inability to connect with his high school buddies. Clearly Travis suffers from PTSD and isn't bothering to get the help he needs. He has too many other things to think about: his over anxious mother, his condescending father, his ex-girlfriend who still slips into his bedroom late at night, and of course, his insomnia.
Into this madness walks Harper, Travis's biggest regret. He inadvertently ruined her reputation when she was 14, and finds himself still attracted and still undeserving. This part of the story offers a growing hope for Travis, and contrasts strongly with the other heavier and sadder storylines. Travis makes many mistakes, but readers can see at heart he is a loyal friend, a brave soldier, and a good man.
Doller acknowledges a bunch of marines in her author's note, so we know where her sympathies lie. And rightly; this is a high pressure life and there are no guarantees of survival. Doller doesn't sugar coat Travis' wartime experiences, and the ending reflects that uncertainty. But the hope, strength, and growth in Travis will satisfy readers. This should really be offered to mature or older teens. Themes include family relationships, war, post-traumatic stress disorder, friendship, grief and loss, identity, and coming-of-age.
Trish Buckley

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