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. ~ Goodreads
I enjoyed listing my thoughts with this new format I started on the last review of Ink is Thicker Than Water. So I’m going to stick with that format for now.
The reasons I enjoyed this book and am talking to you about it:
1. Realistic male voice. At least I felt it was. I don’t know for sure because I have no idea what is going through that noggin of theirs or how they are feeling. I don’t have brothers or sons and my Dad was unavailable growing up but I did have many male friends so I used that to judge Travis’ thoughts and feelings. What my close male friends made me privy to from 6th grade and up were very much like Travis’ inner dialogue.
2. New, fresh storyline dealing with war and PTSD. I can’t remember the last time I read a book that dealt with the aftermath of a war veteran returning home and dealing with friends, family and the trauma of war. Again, it felt honest and raw and didn’t focus on Travis being a hero just because he served. I have zero experience with knowing what men and women go through in the armed forces but again the writing by Trish Doller felt authentic. A reviewer on Goodreads said she couldn’t finish the book because it hit too close to home with having served in Afghanistan. That alone speaks volumes.
3. REAL & lovely YA. I have been on an YA roll lately. When YA is good, it’s good. But when it is great, it really stands out and you want to tell all your over 30 year-old friends to give YA a chance. Many of my friends still believe they will be reading some teenage/angsty, over dramatic story, but many are so much more! I think touching on the subject of PTSD and war for the YA audience is equally important. We forget (at least I do) that war veterans can be as young as 19 or 20 and see so much in a few months. They return home and many of their friends are in college or going to college focusing on classes, dating, partying and complaining about little things. How can young men like Travis relate when they return? I think male and female readers will read this book and will walk away thinking a little bit differently about their country and the people who risk their lives for us. I did.
4. Flawed but good people. Some YA/NA books have these overly flawed characters and it’s hard to root for them. But Travis is nothing like those characters. His flaws are after effects of his experience and yet he doesn’t make excuses for them. Every character in this book has moments when you want to yell at them but isn’t that real life? It’s how they learn from their mistakes and make better choices that matter. (ie: Paige…ugh! she made me so mad to take advantage of Travis; Ryan…not very brotherly with his choices; Travis…what he does to Harper years ago and again when he gets back; Travis’ dad…boo!) But they all redeem themselves in the end, which is what counts.
5. Great building romance and friendship. I love my hot and heavy romances but in the YA department less is more. The sparks between Harper and Travis are realistic and slow building. They don’t have the best past encounter but as they become friends they really start to understand one another and the trust builds. As does the romance, which Doller writes beautifully and lets unfold organically.
6. A quick read but leaves a lasting impression. I have never written a novel. Or a short story for that matter but I am guessing that one of the hardest parts of writing a story is how much of it do you drag out to simply fill pages? How do you make a point without sounding preachy or redundant? How do you create dialogue that is real and believable? How do you create characters without just telling the reader who they are? How do you make the reader feel the emotions you were intending without sounding cheesy or being over the top? Trish Doller is now one of my new fave YA writers. She does it well without overdoing it. A difficult feat. (I even could’ve read more and more. Just when they get to that happy place and approach that silver lining, it ends. But it’s all good. No cliff-hangers, I promise.)
The only thing I didn’t care for was the cover. And you know, “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover” but I am not a huge fan of the lovey dovey covers. Unless the story is lovey dovey, then it works. This book has more than love and kissing…a much bigger message and topic. But what do I know! It’s still amazing!
**As with any book labeled YA/Teen make sure the content is suitable for your son/daughter/niece/nephew/granddaughter…okay you get it. YA is considered 12-18, which I think is too broad. My daughter is 11 and she would not be ready for this book in a year. There are elements of death, war, killing, sex, cheating, vulgar language, drinking, drugs. Goodreads labels it in the genres of YA (12-18) and NA (18-25). My local library labeled it Teen and Amazon listed it suitable for grades 9 and up. So again, use discretion before you buy it as a gift for that 12 year old and your child is never invited to another party because you are “that parent”. 😉
Learn more about Trish Doller at her website here. She even has these cool soundtracks on Spotify for each book.