Book Review: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

11 Jun

Book cover for Something Like Normal by Trish DollerTitle: Something Like Normal

Author: Trish Doller

Genre: Contemporary YA, military

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Release date: June 19, 2012

Challenge: Debut Author Challenge, Contemporary Challenge

Source: NetGalley

Summary: 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.

WHEW. Guys, I read SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL, the debut from Trish Doller, a few months ago. Usually, when I do this, I find myself needing a refresher when it comes time to write my review if I forget to take notes. Just a little “hey, so this is what happened in a nutshell and your thoughts on this thing were (insert opinion here).” Except. Except for those times when a book is so touching and real and wonderful that I can’t take the time to write notes, even after I’m done, and I wind up not needing them anyway because the book has been stuck in my heart and brain ever since I put it down. SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL just…I can’t forget anything about it. Not that I would try. It’s basically amazing.

I’ve mentioned before how much a fan I am of military-themed things. Not the cray melodrama that’s sometimes around, but the real, gritty, sad stuff. It fascinates me while also poking little holes in my heart, with a major side helping of making me feel like opening a can of whoop ass myself. There’s not one of my buttons that good military entertainment doesn’t push, and SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL is exactly this way. Travis Stephenson is a marine home on leave, and Trish Doller doesn’t sugar-coat his experience, both while deployed and at home. There’s good parts and bad parts, and it’s hard for Travis to make heads or tails of them all the time. I loved it beyond reason. (Although there ARE reasons. Good ones, I promise.)

Guys, Travis is one of those perfectly flawed characters, and I ADORED him even when he was being an asshole. Because before Travis joined the Marines, that’s what he was: an asshole. The difference now is that being in the Marines seemed to help him start to turn over a new leaf, so now that he’s back home in Florida with his splintering family, he WANTS to do the right thing, but sometimes still screws up. At least now, he knows it, and wants to fix it. He’s broken, though, and feeling both intense guilt over the death of his friend, Charlie, and discomfort at being home again (he sleeps on his floor for a while because his bed just isn’t comfortable to him).  Basically, Travis has a lot of shit to deal with–his ex-girlfriend is sleeping with his brother, his dad is a TOOL, his mom is trying to keep it together and stand up for herself, and Travis is coping with PTSD, and how he might tell his family that even though it sucked in Afghanistan, he misses it. He wants to go back. Home just doesn’t feel like the right place to him. Trish Doller made Travis so three-dimensional. He’s a really special character because it feels like you’re reading about a real guy.

Enter Harper Gray. Travis and Harper have some history, guys, and it’s not good. This is from Travis’s pre-Marines asshole time, and yo, she has NOT FORGOTTEN IT. THANK GOD. Because Harper is pretty much perfect. She’s compassionate and sensitive, but she’s also tough, smart, devoted, and strong. She takes no shit, friends, and SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL is even better because of her tough, grudging at first love for Travis. I loved that Harper had plans for herself, and I loved how Travis and their growing love didn’t sidetrack her. 

Speaking of growing love…guys? Travis and Harper ignite on the page. There’s such great tension and all of these sweet, steamy moments that they share. I’ll never think of sea turtles the same way EVER AGAIN. But it’s more than that, too. What makes their relationship so great is that the drama is between the two of them, just trying to be together. You could certainly look at Travis’s impending redeployment as out-of-the-ordinary drama, but I don’t. It’s just Travis and Harper, dealing with each other’s faults and secrets, never pushing, but always there. WORD. 

I don’t want to wrap things up without talking about how much I enjoyed reading about Travis and his mom. They don’t have one of those “momma’s boy” relationships. In fact, Travis’s mom makes him feel kind of awkward sometimes, and he doesn’t really know how to interact with her right away. She’s a proud military mom, and all of the yellow-ribbon-sporting, picture-hanging-in-WalMart stuff that helps HER deal with his deployment just makes him profoundly uncomfortable. But they slowly start to bond a little bit over Travis’s dad, an ASSHAT. And that was nice, guys. Because Trish Doller didn’t make it saccharine. Just…normal. Real. I can imagine military moms being just like Travis’s mom, and I can imagine their sons being just like Travis.

PLEASE don’t miss SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL, guys. Trish Doller‘s debut is really special. It’s emotional and relevant and bittersweet. But it’s also swoony and has its own kind of humor. Travis Stephenson is as outstanding a character as I’ve read this year: a young man trying to be better, trying to get the girl and cope with his friend’s death. It’s just AWESOME. He’s awesome, Harper is awesome. Even Charlie’s mom–ESPECIALLY Charlie’s mom. She’s awesome too, and has a profound affect on Travis. After reading SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL, I will officially read all of Trish Doller‘s words, and I think a lot of you will have the same feeling after your done. 

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4 Responses to “Book Review: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller”

  1. Alexa Loves Books (@alexalovesbooks) June 11, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    Your love and enthusiasm for this novel definitely shines in your review. I have had my eye on this one since I heard of it, and I can’t wait to get the opportunity to read it!

  2. Katie June 14, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    Great review! It sounds like this book had a great plot and characters. It has been on my TBR for a while, so I can’t wait to finally get to read it.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. In My Mailbox (33) « Tripping Over Books - June 24, 2012

    […] Like Normal by Trish Doller. So first of all, this book is amazing. Travis and Harper are damaged and smoldery and awesome. Plus, it’s got that military angle […]

  2. Top Ten Tuesday (53) « - November 27, 2012

    […] Doesn’t matter, really, because Trish Doller is, even after just one book (that would be SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL), very good at writing about intense feelings and family drama and young people coping with […]

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