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.
“It’s the perfect mix of happy and sad and real life and romance.” That’s how I described this book to a dear friend as soon as I was done reading it. I had no other words. It was that powerful. By reading the summary you can tell that this book is going to break you into a million pieces. But Trish Doller did something incredible with it. She laced it with amazing characters we want to love and care about. The humor was well placed and perfectly timed. The dialogue is realistic and intriguing. I can’t pick one thing about this book that I loved more than another. Except maybe the baby turtles. I mean, who doesn’t love baby turtles?
Something Like Normal is about a boy who comes home from Afghanistan broken. Broken more than maybe he even realizes. This is something I’ve never experienced. My dad had been over in “the dessert” a number of times (four to be exact. They called it Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Desert Calm, and Desert Vacation…that was on the back of a Calvin and Hobbs shirt he got after his last time over there). One or two times was during the war, but I was too young to remember any of the bad things, just that he was home, safe with us. So to see it first hand through Travis was a real eye opener. And then when we meet his friends—his fellow squad members—we get to see how they handle life after Afghanistan. All bonded through horror and each coming out different, leaving small pieces of themselves behind.
Within the first two chapters Travis had my heart. I wanted to reach in and hold him tight. Make all the nightmares go away. Now this boy is not perfect, far from it, but really, what teenage boy is? But the thing is, he never makes excuses, he owns up to his flaws. And that’s what makes him so loveable. That, and he tries. Every time he screws up, he learns—sometimes quicker than others—and does what he can to fix his messes. Then we have Harper. This girl, she’s awesome. I loved her the moment we’re introduced. She packs that big of a punch—literally. You can tell there’s history between these two characters and it’s magical watching them work around it. They are one of my favorite book couples.
And the background characters. None of them stood behind another. Trish has a way of making them each unique in their own way. Memorable. Each with an incredible back story that’s craftily woven into the book.
Then there’s the setting. Man does it make me long to be back home along the beach in Florida. And though I’ve driven through this part of Florida a few times before, it’s been awhile and not for an extended amount of time. But her descriptions bring it to life. I can picture the characters driving down the road, eating in the Waffle House, standing on the beach.
Trish, my hats off to you. And I can’t wait to read what you write next.