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A Reader of Fictions: Picking Up the Pieces - Blue October

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, July 9, 2012

Picking Up the Pieces - Blue October

Something Like Normal

Author: Trish Doller
Pages: 214
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Source: Bloomsbury via NetGalley

Description from Goodreads:
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.

First Sentence: "At the end of the concourse I can see a few kids from the high school marching band playing the 'Marines' Hymn' and a couple old guys—their blues straining at the waist—acting as an unofficial color guard."

There are some subjects that I avoid like the plague, and current politics tops the list. A subset of that is anything about the US' resent wars, both Afghanistan and Iraq. Were it not for my challenge with myself to read as many Apocalypsies books as I can, I definitely would not have picked this one up. Let me just say that I would seriously have been missing out.

Something Like Normal is about a Marine deployed in Afghanistan, but Doller manages to avoid any preaching on the war itself, either negative or in endorsement. This book isn't about the political side of the war; it's about the emotions. Told from Travis' perspective, Something Like Normal is not intended to capture the truth of the war as a whole, but merely to highlight its effect on one person.

In the opening scene, Travis has just arrived home on leave, a mandated, extended leave to allow him to deal with his problems dealing with his best friend's death. Travis is not the kind of guy that I like in real life, and he's not the typical YA hero. He's flawed, even a bit of an asshole. His gut instinct is to violence, he makes too many decisions with his dick, and he doesn't recognize that his mother is just as trapped in their family as he is. I mean, if you told me that I would read a book and sympathize with a guy who hooked up with his ex-girlfriend (now his brother's girlfriend) while flirting with a wonderful girl, then I would have told you that you were insane.

Still, that's precisely what happened. Something about the writing really made everything feel so real. I got completely sucked into Travis' narration. Despite my disgust for his behavior much of the time, I couldn't help being right there with him. The writing is not ornate, not the typical style I most appreciate, but it fits Travis perfectly: blunt, slightly crude, occasionally funny, and fairly intelligent. The other aspect of the writing that made this work was how reserved, distant, and cold Travis' narration felt most of the time, the exceptions being time spent with Harper or with his marine buddies when you can feel him come alive.

Harper. I have to talk about her. I just love her, even if she made choices I never would have made. She's a completely wonderful girl, and Travis doesn't deserve her. I think she knows that, but she's been in love with him for ages and she's going to get what she wants, just like she'll find a way to pay her way through college. She is such a caring soul, shown both in her treatment of her father and of Travis. Though she may lash out initially, she always ends up doing the right thing. I have so much respect for her as a character.

Another amazing character that I really have to talk about is Travis' mom. Rarely will you see a parent lauded in a YA book review, but I really liked her. She's so completely a mom all the way through, with the care packages, the smothering hug on arrival, the clothing she chose for him, and her projects to try to help out her son's cause. At first, she seems a weak character, controlled by her jerk of a husband, but there's so much more to her. I loved watching her and Travis learn to support and understand one another, brought together through the magic of beer. In fact, the quote I chose for this book is one that struck a chord with me, because it's so like my own relationship with my mother.

There is just so much life in this novel. Part of that stems from the fact that nothing has been romanticized. Doller isn't trying to show the great American hero; she's trying to show a teenager forced to grow up much too fast and coming apart at the seems. The teens in this novel certainly do things that some parents will not want their precious snowflakes to read, but everything feels authentic.  It made me cry, it made me angry, it gave me hope, it made me think, and it made me laugh, all many times over.

Despite the hype (I've yet to see a review of this that isn't a rave), I was in no way let down with this novel. Skeptics, have no fear of the subject matter, Something Like Normal is a book you'll want to read. I was scarcely able to put it down, and, when I did, I was immediately sucked back into its emotional vortex the moment I resumed reading.

Rating: 5/5

Favorite Quote:  
"'Do you need some help?' she asks.
'I can do it.'
The corners of her mouth pull up in a tiny smile. 'You've always been this way.'
'Like what?'
'Independent,' she says. 'Stubborn. As soon as you could talk, your answer for everything was "Me do it" and you'd get angry is I tried to help you. Even then you were trying to get away from me.'"
"I really need to talk with you
I keep stepping on the vein
That keeps my lifeline flowing through
I wanna be your perfect stick of glue
But I don't feel perfect at all
Sad and insecure flaw

I find it hard to hold conversations

I get sweaty sick and I wanna walk away
No, it's not you it's strictly me in this situation
I'm wondering will it ever go away...just go away, still

Sometimes I feel like weeping

Awake and when I'm sleeping
Perfecting how to put a game face on

This puzzle I've been keeping

Has been in hiding creeping out the closet door
Spilling out onto the floor

How long will I be picking up pieces

How long will I be picking up my heart


I'll be as honest as I feel
I'm getting more paranoid and I'm hearing things
And they never turn out real
It feels like my heart is made of pure steel
It's just so heavy all the time

Yea I'm scared of death

And I'm scared of living
I gave up on the past cause it's unforgiving
I misplaced my trust

I watched my word begin to rust

I'm a balloon about to bust
I need a place for reliving

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Anonymous Katie @ BlookGirl said...

I wish I could hug you AND your review! You expressed everything I was feeling and then some! <3

Isn't Harper a kick-ass character? I _adore_ her! I wouldn't have been able to forgive Travis that easily, but I understand why she did, and I respect her choice. I wish I could be a bit more like her, to be honest.

You wrote a very fitting review for a book that is hard to pin down. I also love your song choice. Did I mention that I want to hug you?? ;-)

July 10, 2012 at 12:29 AM  
Blogger Giselle said...

Ugh, I avoid politics like 10 plagues, and spiders (which is even worse!!)! I'm happy you brought this up bc I was very wary of this one and you make it sound like I would actually enjoy it! I especially love the sounds of Harper she sound like my kind of girl!! The presence of a parent is always welcome as well! Awesome review, chickie!!!

July 10, 2012 at 7:17 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yay! I'm so glad you approve, Katie. It took me longer to write then most of my reviews, because I really wanted to get it right. Writing the 4.5 and 5 star reviews is always super difficult, because first instinct is just to have my review say "JUST READ IT" in the biggest font I can find. Haha.

Harper was amazing, and the way that his tone changed around her. I never would have forgiven him...either time. Usually, I would be so unsympathetic towards both of their characters. Doller is a genius for making me feel for them! I don't know how it is I'm able to root for them so hard!


July 10, 2012 at 8:02 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Hahaha, yeah, that sums it up pretty well. Politics for fictional lands can be fine or imaginary politics years in the future or distant past politics, but current? Hell to the no. People generally want to throw their opinions at you, and I have ZERO interest. Haha.

Harper is fantastic. I <3 her. The other parent is a waste of space, but Harper's dad is also cool. :)

July 10, 2012 at 8:06 AM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

Fantastic review! I'm almost tempted to read this - almost. I read something with non-fantasy or sci-fi content three or four times a year, so maybe I'll look at this one for my wintertime subjection. :-D

July 10, 2012 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

Without* Ugh, stoopid not sleeping... ;-)

July 10, 2012 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Haha, no worries girl. It is REALLY good, so it would be a good option, but if it's not your genre, well, I get that.

Like I would ever think you only read fantasy/sci-fi four times a year. lol

July 10, 2012 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Kristin (Book Sniffers Anonymous) said...

Holy cow, how have I never heard of this book. This sounds amazing and your review is killing me. I want to read this right now!... Sorry this is a short comment but I MUST put this on my kindle... NOW. ;)

December 3, 2012 at 6:13 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

No idea, but you should read this! ;)

December 4, 2012 at 9:36 AM  

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