Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Review: Something Like Normal
Author: Trish Doller
Published: June 19th 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Hardcover, 214 pages
Buy: The Book Depository
Before I start praising Something Like Normal, I need to point out a little thing that’s really bothering me: the cover is doing this book a great disservice. This is not a romance. There is a guy and there is a girl, and they do get together eventually, but the guy is suffering from PTSD and the girl is his lifeline, and all they’re both trying to do is chase away the nightmares. This is, above all, a book about survival, loss and guilt. The couple on the cover seems somehow less than appropriate, or at least misleading.
After spending seven months in Afghanistan, Travis Stephenson has returned home for a 30-day leave. He is supposed to spend some time with his family and relax, but home isn’t home anymore, and Trav is having a hard time functioning among normal people. His family was never exactly warm; in fact, his overbearing father was the main reason Travis enlisted in the Marines. While he was away, his girlfriend started a relationship with his younger brother, his father started cheating on his mom, and he doesn’t feel that he belongs anywhere except in the muddy pits of Afghanistan, where he spent the most intense days of his life and lost his best friend Charlie. Spending time with Harper, a girl he knew back in high school, helps, but PTSD isn’t something that just goes away when you fall in love.
Trish Doller did her research, and she did it well. Writing about young soldiers in a war that’s so fresh was risky and brave, and I was more than a little worried. I was afraid she’d either idealize those boys, or completely fail to dig under the surface, but her raw honesty stunned me. Nobody is idealized in this story, not even Afghan children, and the truth is told – the good and the bad parts.
Travis is a very complex character. Severely damaged, afraid of every sudden move and loud sound, he still longs for the adrenaline rush he gets from patroling the streets of Afghanistan. He feels completely detached from anything that’s even close to normal. He can’t even get mad at his brother for appropriating his life while he was away. His actions aren’t always easily acceptable, but they make sense in light of his condition.
Doller’s story is very emotionally demanding. It is never melodramatic; in fact, she approaches true pain and horror very matter-of-factly, which forces the reader to accept them in the same way. On her GoodReads page, Doller listed Cath Crowley, Kirsty Eagar and Melina Marchetta as her influences. It’s something I could have guessed on my own after reading her debut. Maybe she lacks Crowley’s magical touch, Eagar’s exceptional rawness or Marchetta’s finesse, but she is a force to be reckoned with. Give her a couple more books, and she’ll be standing with the very best.