Author: Trish Doller
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Release Date: June 19th, 2012
Interest: 2012 Debut Author / Guy appeal
Source: E-book ARC received via NetGalley
Summary (From Goodreads): 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.
I’ve read quite a few rave reviews for Trish Doller’s debut Something Like Normal, so I looked it up on NetGalley to request a copy. As soon as I received the approval email I downloaded Something Like Normal to my Kindle and started reading. If I hadn’t started it while visiting my grandpa in the hospital, I would have finished this in one sitting because it’s that good. If I could get away with writing a review that says “READ IT!” I would just do that because it’s hard to form words for such a wonderful story.
Over the years I’ve learned about myself that if I can’t connect with a character then I won’t enjoy the book. I’ve also learned that I mostly prefer first-person point of view. Something Like Normal fits both of those preferences, plus it features a male protagonist which is something I’m always looking for. Travis is on leave from the Marines and he’s really suffering after witnessing the death of his close friend Charlie. He’s also dealing with coming home to a family that’s been falling apart since his deployment. I really like that Trish Doller wrote Travis the way she did because he’s not written as a hero. He’s written as a suffering young man who’s trying to recover and make amends. He’s trying to become a better man, a man he can be proud of. I can see a number of teenage guys relating to Travis, especially if they’re considering joining the Marines or another part of the armed forces. Many of my seniors that enlist do so because they hope it will shape them into a better person; they hope it will provide some guidance in life. Travis says he really doesn’t know why he joined, but his character made me think of past seniors I had in class that enlisted because they wanted guidance or a sense of direction in their lives. I always appreciate a story with a hero, but there’s something about a story with a flawed character that a reader can’t help but love. Travis’s voice is real and authentic; it’s how I imagine many teenage guys think and feel and act.
I’ve noticed that more Y.A. novels are featuring characters who have graduated from high school. I hope to see more published like this because it’s an excellent way for upperclassman to relate to what’s in their future. It’s also a way to keep teens reading Y.A. beyond high school. Even though Travis is done with school and has been in situations and done and witnessed things most adults never will, he’s still dealing with family drama and common relationship insecurities/dilemmas. I doubt Travis returned home expecting to fall for a girl, especially when his ex-girlfriend has moved on to his brother. His life is complicated, but after running into Harper everything starts to turn around. As I was reading Something Like Normal, I didn’t know what to expect from Harper, but I ended up loving her character. Really, I love Travis and Harper together as a couple. They form the kind of relationship where they work off each other. They mesh in that perfect, awkward, kind of rough around the edges way, but those edges begin to smooth over. Travis isn’t perfect, far from it actually, but his effort to become better is endearing. We see these efforts in his relationship with his mother and with Harper. Both of these women make Travis want to become a better person which is when we see the rough edges smooth over.
Trish Doller includes flashbacks and nightmares in Something Like Normal which give us an idea of the suffering and experiences Travis goes through. I appreciate these scenes for two reasons. My first reason is because it breaks up the family and relationship drama Travis is going through at home. I know many readers enjoy romance and relationship issues in the books they read, but for the readers that want a little less of that, these flashbacks and nightmares will add a welcome break. The second reason I like these scenes is because it gives us a more well-rounded idea of who Travis is and what life is like for soldiers in Afghanistan. I can’t imagine returning home and constantly searching the floor for bombs. Or preferring to sleep on the floor rather than my bed. Or feeling vulnerable without my gun in my hands. These scenes are an invaluable layer to the story.
My only issue with Something Like Normal is that I’m done reading it and I don’t have another book by Trish Doller to read next. I feel like I haven’t expressed enough how completely fantastic this debut is. There isn’t anything I disliked or would change. It’s an engrossing story that I predict will be a huge hit in my classroom. Actually, I wish it released earlier than June 19th so my current students could read it since I don’t have a physical ARC to share with them.