Friday, January 18, 2013

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Title: Something Like Normal
Author: Trish Doller
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Pages: 214 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

Something Like NormalWhen 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.


American troops have been fighting the War on Terror in the Middle East for over ten years now, but as someone who doesn't know anyone serving over there, it's easy for me to forget what the soldiers go through every day. Even as a regular news-watcher, it just isn't something I think about. Though he's only a fictional character, seeing what happens over there through Travis's eyes has made me not just think about it, but remember it like it was drilled into me. Something Like Normal has given me a greater appreciation for what these men and women suffer through in the name of our country. It's a story that needed to be told.

Travis isn't always likable, but he's a well-developed character and that manages to trump how awful he can occasionally be. His narrative voice sounds very similar to how my older brother sounded at his age, and the pain he feels from his friend's death and his time in Afghanistan is viscerally real. The scenes in which he experiences flashbacks and sees Charlie chilled me to the bone.
To imagine thousands, maybe millions, of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder the way he does for a variety of different reasons is... There aren't words for how it makes me feel, really.

Something small I enjoyed with this book that I've never enjoyed with any other is how I recognize every area Doller writes into the story. I live in places in areas no one sets their stories, so the sensation of "Hey, I know that business/itty-bitty city/area of town!" reviewers from larger, more book-friendly cities are used to is completely new to me. It immersed me further in the story to know every inch of the setting.

Something Like Normal has an issue with its portrayal of women, though. Travis's mother and love interest are portrayed positively because they are people he cares about dearly, but the only other woman of note have rather negative images. Paige is the one-dimensional character who got boobs for her fifteenth birthday, bounces between brothers, and exists mainly to add drama in his relationships with his family and love interest. Harper's friend Lacey is a stripper who wears a lot of skipmy clothes and whom Travis jokes might give his Marine buddy Kevlar an STD. That's not a very funny joke.

There's also some unchallenged sexism in going to a gun range being a guy thing and some of the things the Marines say about women. The STD joke above is one of them. This is an identifiable attempt to accurately portray the attitudes of some men, but it's still rather upsetting to read about. Just one character saying something about it would have made me feel better, but no one said a thing about it.

Even despite the issues that make my feminism perk up its ears, I plan to stick around for more of Doller's novels. She's got the power to write an authentic voice and make me physically react to her characters' plights. Authors like this don't prance into my life every day, you know! Besides, I need to support my Florida authors--especially the ones who write places I know.

3.5 stars!

What am I reading next?: Everbound by Brodi Ashton