Alice's Reviews > Personal Effects

Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie
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's review
Apr 02, 2012

really liked it

This book will break your heart. More than once. It will make you angry. It will make you smile. It will make your throat close up in the way throats do when you’re about to cry but have to hold it in, because you need to finish this chapter you just can’t wait so Do Not Cry.

Personal Effects, E.M. Kokie’s debut YA is about Matt Foster: seventeen and angry. And not dealing well with the recent death of his older brother, T.J., in Iraq. “Not dealing well” doesn’t cover it. His father’s not dealing in a worse way, and taking it out on Matt. Nothing new there: dad is ex-military himself, raising his sons with his fists to be real men and real soldiers.

Matt adored T.J. Younger by several years, T.J. was everything Matt strove to be—and was convinced he’d never live up to.

And then Matt had nothing but the footlockers of T.J.’s personal effects, delivered by the Army.

Disobeying his dad’s Not Dealing With It—and risking one of the worst beatings of his life—Matt sneaks into his brother’s old room and opens the footlockers. Among the clothes, CDs, and books, he finds packets of photographs and letters. Some are from him and their father. Most are from a woman named Celia. Matt knew nothing about her, but as he reads the letters and studies the photographs, he realizes just how important Celia was to his brother.

On the bottom is one last letter. T.J. never got a chance to send it.

So Matt, angry, lost, heartbroken – but not admitting it – decides Celia needs this letter. So what if he’s in Pennsylvania and she’s in Wisconsin? He needs to do this.

It’s what he finds in Wisconsin that changes everything.

Kokie gives us a troubled young man who nevertheless commands our attention and sympathy from the first page. I rooted for him almost immediately. Matt and his situation are immediate and gripping. His home, his school, his memories, his troubles—Kokie has the enviable talent of making the characters as real as the people sitting next to me on the bus.

Traveling with Matt to the end of the last chapter is a journey worth taking. You will not quickly forget him. E.M. Kokie has given us a winner.

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