Saturday, June 30, 2012
Review: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
Travis Stephenson is back home for a month after a year of active duty as a Marine in Afghanistan. Still suffering in the wake of his best friend’s death, Travis is in no mood to play mind games with his bastard father, needy mother, competitive brother, and manipulative ex-girlfriend. But amongst all the dread of returning home comes the unexpected surprise of falling for Harper, she of the girl-next-door type.
SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL is not a book about the psychological effects of war so much as the PTSD-suffering Marine protagonist is a thinly veiled mask over a fairly basic contemporary YA story about one guy’s emotional growth. It was decent and a quick read, but didn’t end up blowing me away with emotional catharsis, as other pre-release praise seemed to suggest.
I quite liked Travis, the protagonist. It was nice and refreshing to get inside the head of a young man as he dealt with relationship issues, and I commend Trish Doller for her nuanced but still honest portrayal of a male Marine’s mind. Yes, he thinks about girls and sex; yes, he would rather not deal with females’ “emotional vomit;” yes, he likes to talk crap with his Marine buddies. But he’s also a genuinely good guy, being understanding and supportive of the emotionally vulnerable women in his life, and you know he would not hesitate to give his life for his friends. Not all of Travis’ actions and decisions are admirable, but they absolutely make sense, and his good intentions made me care for him and think twice about other college-age guys who act like boneheads.
Unfortunately, I almost felt like SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL was not long enough to contain the emotional and relationship growth that Travis undergoes. In the interest of keeping itself at a manageable length, SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL foregoes, I think, some of the situational and character depth that the scenarios in the story had potential for. Travis’ dad comes across as a one-dimensional bastard, when in real life even the bastards usually have some sort of reason for why they act the way they do. In addition, Travis’ budding relationship with Harper felt rushed: one minute he’s telling us about their shaky past, the next she’s falling for him. It’s not often that I say a book should’ve been longer, but I think it wouldn’t have hurt for SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL to have been 50 or even 100 pages longer, so that the subtler elements of relationship issues could have had the space to breathe.
SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL was, for me, a decent but not mind-blowing read. For a gentle and somewhat predictable YA contemporary, this will be a good enough choice. For a more intimate and thorough look into the mindset of a soldier, however, I’d go elsewhere afterwards.
Cover discussion: I like the text treatment slightly better than I did an earlier version, but I still think the stock photo is moronic and makes it look like every other YA contemporary out there. Is that what we're really supposed to go for, hrm?
Bloomsbury / June 19, 2012 / Hardcover / 225pp. / $16.99
e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.