February 23, 2014

Review: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Something Like Normal
Author: Trish Doller
Release Date: June 19th, 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens
Page Count: 224
Source: Purchased
First Reaction: Heartbreaking and fantastic.
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.

[Summary Source: Goodreads]

Travis is a Marine. When he comes home, he brings a ton of emotional issues with him - the worst of which stems from the fact that his best friend died in combat. The last thing Travis needs is to return and find his ex-girlfriend with his brother (although, she's still pretty interested in him), his parents' marriage mid-dissolution, and even more disappointment from his father. With all of this going on, Travis is keen to keep away from home and ends up at the same bar as Harper one night. But Travis wasn't so nice to Harper when they were younger and she's not about to let him flirt his way off her shit list. It's as he works to deserve Harper that he begins to work to figure out so many other things in his life - including how he's going to deal with his family, PTSD, and grief over his friend's death.

Let's break this down:


I kind of want to leave it there because I feel like that covers most of it, and I've just told an author I greatly admire to shut up, so I can't really embarrass myself anymore than that, but I guess I should keep going if I really wanna call this a review.

I think my favorite part of this book is Travis. First of all, I don't read a ton of books with a male protagonist/main POV. Sometimes dual POV helps me cheat and get a little more manly POV in my life, but this was a nice change of pace. Second of all, Travis is a wonderful, complex little swoon. He wasn't always right and he made some bad decisions but you could see why he would do what he did and both the good and bad decisions were so well placed and utterly believable. Third of all, I loved all the army stuff. The way he dealt with his friend's death, the PTSD, how he behaved when his army buddies rolled into town, and all the stuff at the end... it made you really feel for him. That, plus all Travis's complex home stuff (and good and bad decisions) totally makes this thin, little book grab you from start to finish.

Basically, what I'm saying is, there's no reason not to finish this book all in one sitting, if just for Travis.

Of course, there's more than Travis. There's also Harper. Harper is a secondary character but you love her like she's the main focus. A lot of Travis's poor decisions in this book have something to do with Harper, so you can get a really good feel for her character, despite the shortness of the book. Harper's also this force that makes Travis start making good decisions. And it's not because she expects the good decisions from him. It's because he somehow feels like she's worth it and he doesn't want to let her down. And when he does let her down, she's mega no-nonsense and doesn't really stand for it, which is fantastic and I love her for it.

Now, while the dynamics between Travis and Harper are excellent and crazy complicated, there's also everything going on with Travis and his family, which is similarly messy. The way Travis relates to his family, both in the pre-books and as the book unfolds is so totally honest and just feels true. Like, marine stuff aside, Travis could be someone I know who's having issues at home. And for me to be able to imagine someone like Travis so vividly in my mind just through all the emotional stuff... well, I think we're back to me telling Trish Doller to just shut up, aren't we?

Really, what I'm trying to say is, this book is all about the emotions. It's about how the characters smack into each other and make you care about them and their stories along the way. And there are also all of the compelling events in this book, especially when Travis has to really deal with the death of his friend - which he does. That's right, this isn't just a swoony kissing book. There's some serious meat and potatoes here. Not to mention, the emotions that pour off these pages aren't just expressed, they're also dealt with in the most lovely way anyone could think of.

There's some swoony stuff in there as well - although, I think my one gripe with this book was that I would have liked a little more from the Travis/Harper relationship end. So really, I'm saying, Trish Doller skimped on the swoons and just piled on other feels and ugh, now everyone has to shut up because I can't keep typing anymore.

Bottom Line: Go read this and take one right in the feels, would you?

The long and short of it?

Plot: Complex, heartbreaking, brilliant, addictive... maybe a little shy on the Travis/Harper development, but the book's not about the swoons. It's about the complete and utter mess that is Travis's head and I love it.
World Building: I don't know the first thing about the Marines or PTSD or anything, so I'm gonna have to take Trish Doller's word on all this.
Character Development: Travis is the best. His character development is the best. And Harper's pretty fantastic too.
Prose: I totally devoured every word of this book. The words are so authentic and made me feel every single bit.
Would I Recommend This Book?: If you love realistic fiction, books about the marines/army, feels, a slightly older YA read, or tough family situations, you should probably pick up this book immediately. Like, what even are you still doing here?

I'm not the first one on the Something Like Normal feels train. So if you're already on board, talk to me in the comments below. If you're not, tell me why not and maybe I can help you out there - if the review above hasn't already, of course.