Okay, I need y’all to bear with me for a minute while I get a little personal here. Feel free to skip ahead, I won’t be offended. There I was, a newlywed at the ripe ol’ age of 21, standing at the airport sobbing, about to send the love of my life into a war zone. It was the roughest year and a half of my life as I spent all my time worrying about his safety, or glued to my cell phone just in case he was able to call. Then he finally came home, and we spent six months dealing with all the issues a soldier faces when returning home from combat. As a result, I’m extremely sensitive to stories involving soldiers. In hindsight, I probably should have left this one to Barbara. Something Like Normal was beautiful in it’s simplicity, but I spent more time wiping the tears off my cheeks while reading than was probably normal.
Travis has just returned home from spending the last year in Afghanistan with his unit, only to find that life went haywire in his absence. Home is the last place he wants to be, since he joined the military to get away from it, but he has nowhere else to go and his one month leave is mandatory. Sitting down to dinner with his family that first night, he realizes just how wrong everything is. His parents aren’t getting along and his little brother has literally taken over Travis’ old life, including his old girlfriend and even his car. Everything is awkward and uncomfortable, and all he wants is to return to his unit and his friends, the guys who really understand him and know what he’s been through. He goes out one night with his brother to a local party and runs into Harper, a girl who has hated him since junior high. But for some reason, being with Harper is calming and Travis can forget about his wrecked home life and the nightmares that plague him every night since returning home.
Something Like Normal is simply a tale of a young man’s experience of dealing with life after a year of living in such a traumatic environment. PTSD is a serious and real issue, and Doller doesn’t sugar coat it or gloss over how hard it is on not only the solider, but his family and friends as well. Personally, it reminded me of what it was like dealing with my husband after he returned home. The nightmares, the inexplicable rage and anger, the jumping at every unexpected loud noise for months afterwards all happened. Travis experienced all of that, along with survivor’s guilt over losing his best friend. Travis has examined the events of that horrific day over and over and is plagued with playing the “if only” game. When Travis got up to speak at the funeral, I felt how much love he had for his best friend and how much he missed him. AND.. that’s when I lost it y’all. All death is sad and heartbreaking, for some reason the death of a solider hits me the hardest. Yes, even the fictional ones.
I really loved Harper’s role in the book. I felt like the romance was secondary to Travis learning how to cope with returning to normal life, but she was there for Travis. She didn’t treat him with kid gloves, or make excuses for him, and Travis needed that. He wasn’t always a stellar guy to her, and I admired how Harper had enough self confidence to stand up for herself, despite his emotional status. I also really loved the ending and how everything worked out between Travis and Harper. Harper didn’t rush off to be a military wife, and they made it work while still following their respective dreams.
My Summary: I can admit that I’m probably not the most objective reviewer when it comes to this book. I was too enthralled with the subject matter and my own memories to pay attention to the details. I enjoyed the book for its realness and for Doller’s willingness to take such a serious matter and write about it for young adults. It’s not often that I pick up a book knowing beforehand I’ll probably use up a full box of tissues, but I just couldn’t pass this one up. Something Like Normal was a wonderful, happy, and heart breaking story and I recommend it to anyone. I’m sure you’ll come out of it crying way less than I did.
My Rating: A