Release Date: June 19, 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Age Group: Young Adult
Buy: Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound
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 don’t usually read many books involving military stories or soldiers going off to or coming home from deployments. I’ve known so many brave soldiers in my lifetime that it’s virtually impossible for me to separate the aspects of the story I’m reading with the aspects of the stories of my own personal soldiers. It always hits me close to home and close to my heart, and I know my limits in that way. However, the buzz about the amazingness of Trish Doller’s debut Something Like Normal caught my attention, and I decided to give it a chance. While I believe my own hesitations are still valid, I totally fell for Travis, for Harper, for Charlie, for Something Like Normal.
When we meet Travis Stephenson, he’s reentering his former civilian life for the first time since his deployment to Afghanistan. He’s been ordered to take two extra weeks on top of the two weeks given in order to help him deal with the death of his fellow soldier and best friend Charlie. We see through Travis just how hard it can be to come back to a place that doesn’t understand you, and we feel his pain when he realizes you can’t truly come home again.
Travis is the best and most authentic male narrator I’ve ever read in YA. Not only does he sound like a 19-year-old boy, he sounds like a 19-year-old Marine. He curses and mocks his friends relentlessly and drinks and makes some ridiculous mistakes that a 19-year-old Marine on leave would make. Doller really did her research, because this is true to life in the best and worst ways. Honestly, it’s Travis’s voice that shines throughout the story. If he wasn’t written in such a dynamic and brutally honest way, I wouldn’t have loved it nearly as much. Travis is relatable, even if you’re not a Marine.
My previous opinions regarding military-themed stories, while valid, didn’t affect my reading experience the way I thought they might. Instead, I feel Travis’s story is so real that he could represent a whole generation of Marines in Afghanistan. This struggle to come to terms with the loss of his closest friend as well as his own transition away from the boy he was into the man is becoming is universal. It’s so powerful. This is a soldier’s story told in a soldier’s voice, and it resonates on so many levels. I want to wrap Travis in hugs and tell him he’s strong enough to make it through this.
And then there’s Harper Gray. I hope the readers realize this one thing: There are too many Paige Mannings in this world. Don’t be a Paige Manning. Be a Harper Gray. Be willing to see a different side of the person who made a mistake half a lifetime ago. Be open to change. Take a chance when there’s a chance to take. Be yourself, even when it’s the hardest thing to do. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you deserve anything less than the very best. Be a Harper Gray.
This is one of the novels where you should believe the hype. Pick up a copy of Something Like Normal, take this journey with Travis, and I know you won’t regret it.