Title: Something Like Normal
Author: Trish Doller
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2012
Trish Doller brings us into the mind of a young Marine who comes home on leave after being on tour in Afghanistan. But it's no happy homecoming for Travis. The 19-year-old has nightmares every night, sees his dead best friend everywhere, and can't connect with his old friends as he was once able to do. To make matters worse, his parents are having marital issues, and he gets along even worse with his father and brother than he did before. But there is a bit of hope when he reconnects with Harper, that is, after she punches him in the eye for ruining her life. The two begin a tentative friendship, which turns into something a bit more. But their relationship will have to go up against Travis's troubled mind.
I really enjoyed Trish Doller's debut. It seemed very genuine to me, and it was clear she did her research—that much is confirmed in her acknowledgements. I'm so glad it was told from Travis's perspective, as I don't think I've ever read a contemporary novel told from the perspective of someone who had been at war, especially a war that is continuing right now.
It's clear from the beginning that Travis is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt. His best friend, Charlie, lost his life while they were on tour, and he was there to see it happen. He feels incredibly guilty that Charlie was the one to die and not him, and he struggles with that every day of his life. The language is raw and very real, as are the experiences the teens in this novel have.
A note about the characters. Not everyone is likable at once. Travis's buddies are rough around the edges, as is Travis himself, but I appreciated that. I really liked the relationship he had with his mother, which develops from one where Travis has trouble expressing his feelings to one where he is able to stick up for his mom and help her out in whatever way he is able to. His dad was pretty much just a jerk, and I kept waiting for Travis to put him in his place. His brother too.
The main relationship in here is between Travis and Harper. Initially, Harper hates Travis because of an exaggerated story that took on a life of its own when they were freshmen in high school that pretty much destroyed her reputation. But somehow they get past that, and slowly they become closer. Harper is able to calm Travis in a way no one else can; she manages to ground him and keep him steadier than he is able to keep himself alone. And Doller doesn't wrap everything up in a nice bow, either. Travis is still dealing with his demons at the novel's end, and he and Harper are still working on their relationship, which of course becomes long distance since he is not finished with his tour of duty. We don't know where they end up, but the last lines are filled with hope and promise of having a life that isn't perfect, but is bearable and as normal as they can hope.
This is a really important book for teens to read, especially those who know someone who is fighting overseas. It might help them to understand a little bit better what soldiers go through and what they deal with when they come home.
Disclosure: I got this book from the library.