Returning home from his first year of service as a marine in Afghanistan, twenty-year-old Travis is far from feeling what was intended at his hero’s reception. After his mother obsessed over his well-being from afar by sending care packages and joining multiple deployed children forums she can now dote on him to excess. He can also be an eyewitness observer to his brother’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend Paige as well as party to the disintegration of his parents’ marriage. If that wasn’t enough, Travis is haunted night and day by his dead buddy Charlie, whom he watched take his last breath, and set off by the tiniest of cracking noises. Severe post traumatic stress disorder and speaking to thin air aside, how is he ever going to be normal again? Things are looking down until Travis runs into Harper, a girl from his school with whom he has a troubled history. Like it or not there’s no hiding his terrors from her, and soon enough Travis is slowing trying to put the pieces of his broken life back together while learning to release the guilt of returning in one piece.
As is clearer from the plot synopsis than the cover, Something Like Normal by Trish Doller is about Travis dealing with the stresses of returning to normal life after the battlefield has left him irrevocably changed. The straightforward, subtle romance that develops is secondary, but that doesn’t detract from the book overall. Rather, it adds weight and sweetness to the relationship. After the vicious untrue rumors spread in middle school – which Travis was in a position to disprove – Harper will not stand for Travis’ untruths again. Embarrassing nonetheless, having one person that Travis can bare witnessing the full extent of his brokenness is exactly what he needed. Speaking of Travis, I loved his voice. The serious issues stemming from the trauma of watching Charlie die intermixed with his dry humor made the heavy subject matter palatable and the read easy. As I began rereading sections in preparation for this review I couldn’t help getting sucked back into his reality. I ended up rereading nearly half the book. At 224 pages Something Like Normal is a on the short side and while this isn’t always the case, the brevity left me wanting more. I couldn’t help feeling that the wonderfully nuanced setup of Travis’ traumatic episodes and family problems was slightly disproportionate to the resolution. Travis and Harper are well written and deserve all the page time they can get. Other than this small complaint, I heartily recommend Something Like Normal as a strong and timely YA contemp to check out come June 19.