The reason I read this book was because the main character and narrator is a guy, something I seldom see in YA. It also seemed like a different type of story and I was intrigued. So I requested it months ago and read it, which turned out to be a mistake because I’ve been dying to talk about it since March.
Something Like Normal tells the story of Travis. He’s back home for a short stay before he has to go back to Afghanistan. It’s not the ideal situation because things at home are far from perfect. His girlfriend dumped him and is now with his brother, he has a poor relationship with his dad, and even if he doesn’t want to admit it, he’s suffering from PTSD. He has two choices: he can either ignore all his issues, or he can confront them. To be honest, all he wants to do is get away, it was the reason he enlisted in the first place, but his issues are hard to ignore so confront them he will.
That’s pretty much it. Travis is in a dark place, he has many issues and has to take action or lose himself. He gets some help from a girl he used to know, but Hailey is just a secondary character and a love interest, the story is Travis’ alone.
Travis was an interesting and complex character. Very flawed and layered. He was, at heart, a teenager and behaved accordingly. Before joining the Marines, he didn’t know what to do with his life. He did know football was not in his future, though, so he quits and in the process manages to permanently damage his relationship with his dad. It’s obvious that going against his father’s wishes was part of the reasons he gave up football, and not having more goals and expectations did nothing but invite trouble – he partied, drank, had sex and neglected everything else. Life at home became unbearable and he was drifting, so in a reckless and impulsive decision he decided to join the Marines, having no idea what he was getting into. But it ended up being a good decision, he made friends, gave his life some meaning and found structure and discipline. However, he kept denying his problems at home, and he still didn’t have more goals beyond the Marines. When his best friend gets killed, he also denies how much it affects him. And it takes him a lot of introspection to finally realize that he’s wasting his life doing nothing. Reconnecting with Haley helps him, but in the end he has to do all the hard work.
Conversely, the rest of the characters were flat and underdeveloped, Hailey being the only exception. The father was a stereotype with no redeeming qualities whatsoever and it bothered me because his lack of depth justified some of Travis’ irresponsible actions. It would have been interesting to see how he was affected by everything that was happening to his family, even if he was responsible for most of it. Travis’ mother spends the whole book trying to find a backbone and in the end she somewhat achieves it, although I’m not convinced. She also lacked purpose in life, but whereas Travis was a layered character, she was one-dimensional, which is not to say that I didn’t like her or felt for her, because I did. This is one YA where the lack of strong parental figures actually works, and yet I’m tired of dysfunctional families. On the other hand, Hailey was Travis’ opposite. She was driven and focused on her future, the balance he so needed. Their romance was sweet and realistic.
The story gives us a great character study and some insight into how damaging war can be for a young man, but also how it can give meaning to someone’s life. I didn’t think the book had an anti-war message, nor did I think it was pro-war. It just gives us some facts and a story with different angles so we can draw our own conclusions.
It’s one of the best YA I’ve read this year and I think anyone can read it regardless of the genre. The main subject is more adult than in most YA, although it is clearly aimed towards younger readers. One last warning: the hero does something that’s a huge no-no in romance. I thought it was another way to illustrate how disconnected he was, but you may not like it. ***SPOILER*** He sleeps with his ex after he's already involved with the heroine. It didn't bother me at all because as I said, it's very fitting to his character and to his struggles at that point of the story ***END OF SPOILER***
Review by Brie
Purchase: Something Like Normal
Purchase: Something Like Normal
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.
Bloomsbury USA Childrens. June 19, 2012.