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While He Was Away

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One year--he'll be gone for one year and then we'll be together again and everything will be back to the way it should be.

The day David left, I felt like my heart was breaking. Sure, any long-distance relationship is tough, but David was going to war--to fight, to protect, to put his life in danger. We can get through this, though. We'll talk, we'll email, we won't let anything come between us.

I can be an army girlfriend for one year. But will my sweet, soulful, funny David be the same person when he comes home? Will I? And what if he doesn't come home at all..?

249 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 2012

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About the author

Karen Halvorsen Schreck

8 books90 followers
Karen Halvorsen Schreck is the author of the historical novels Broken Ground (Simon & Schuster May 2016), called a “masterfully written . . . must-read” by USA Today, and Sing For Me, which Publisher's Weekly described as “an impressive debut…a well-wrought and edifying page-turner” in a Starred Review, along with two novels for young adults and a book for children. Her short stories, interviews, and essays have appeared in magazines and journals including The Rumpus, Belt, and Image. The recipient of a Pushcart Prize and an Illinois State Arts Council Grant, Karen received her doctorate in English and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She lives with her husband, the photographer Greg Halvorsen Schreck, and their two children in Wheaton, Illinois, and is at work on her next novel.

For more information, please connect with Karen at: http://karenschreck.com
or Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Karen-...
or Twitter:
@KarenSchreck.
You can also find her on Instagram @khschreck.

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453 (26%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 185 reviews
Profile Image for Isamlq.
1,578 reviews713 followers
November 16, 2012
Don’t let the pastel colored sunset fool you into thinking this is a love conquers all thing. This is not just some sweet love story of a couple seeing things through to their happily ever after. IT’S BETTER THAN THAT. Mainly because it’s more real but more importantly less dramatic about the goings on.

There’s no closely held dark secret to discover; there’s no big mystery to solve… here it’s more on learning to hold on. But, instead of holding on to each other, it’s really about holding on to yourself. Sure there are other key moments of certain people moving on, letting go, and then making things right… but all of it leads to her not forgetting herself.

From the start one sees where things might go wrong: with the one left behind wrapping her life around the one who’s not there. She’s not really present merely just waiting for the next time he’s in the picture. For a good long while that is exactly what happens until more and more people come into focus.

Like her mother who has her own issues to deal with. She reads tough and no nonsense but has this big hurt she’s not hiding but can’t get away from. Like those people from the past, people whom she knew nothing about, but people she’d come close to and feel connected with for some odd reason or another. Or like all those other “new” people who make their presence felt in her life, so felt that the story no longer is just about David being elsewhere. So that’s what this becomes: it’s not just about the love of your life (love of her life?)

It’s about life moving on
…and her moving on with it.


But things could get slow and frustrating, especially how quickly (slowly) those realization came to her, that their each their own person, that they’re necessarily this something “big” she’d describe them to be. That she’s a life of her own. That he’s a life of his own, too … and that both their lives indeed move forward. So if at first she folds in on herself and doesn’t quite know where to pick up again, things still march on anyway… and so does she.

3.75/5

(I do feel this was better than both If I Lie and Personal Effects)
Profile Image for Emily Blake.
351 reviews133 followers
May 22, 2012
*An ARC was provided by Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review*

First off, let me just say that I LOVE this cover. It is amazing. I mean, look at it. I love it. The girl is so pretty and the guy's back is totally cute! ;p Anyway, on to the review! :P

I loved it. I don't usually like books like these, but I loved it. It was like reading a Sarah Dessen book, only a little better. I've never read a book about the army before, and this was a great introduction to the genre. The idea was amazing, the writing was amazing, and the story line was amazing. Everything was perfect. It's always hard to make books like these interesting, and Schreck did an amazing job with keeping things interesting. Although it was super sad, I loved the ending. I really hope Schreck writes a sequel because I want to see what happens with David. Please, oh please write a sequel!

Even though for most of the story he was in Iraq, I really liked David. He was nice, sexy, and totally perfect boyfriend material. And even though by the end I didn't like him as much, I like him.
I also really love Penna. This book needs a strong female character because a weak person can't deal with her boyfriend being in Iraq, so it was crucial that Schreck write Penna as strong. And she was. I loved her.

Like I said before, I hope there is a sequel to this book and if so I will probably start screaming when I hear about it because I will be SO FREAKING EXCITED!! :D


~Emily @ Emily's Crammed Bookshelf
Profile Image for Arlene.
1,155 reviews643 followers
May 29, 2012
://:some spoilery involved in my review…

From the cover of While He Was Away, I fell hard for the concept of this book and the possibilities of where Penna’s story could lead, so it pains me to give it only 3 stars. However, I feel I’m justified in my rating because I truly feel this book is in serious need of an epilogue – a solid ending that gives us a glimpse of what unfolds after David comes back from the war in Iraq.

I’ve been called a lazy reviewer in the past, but does wanting a conclusive ending make me a lazy reader as well? Sure I can use my overactive imagination to take me there, but that’s why I bought this book - to enjoy a story and with it should come “The End.” So 3 stars for an incomplete ending and some other issues I had as well, which I’ll get to in a few.

While He Was Away tells the story of Penna (Penelope) as she sees her boyfriend David go off to fight the war in Iraq. Both know their lives are about to drastically change. She’s off to complete her senior year in high school, and he’s on his way to embark on a mission he hopes will alter his perspective of the world. Penna has a tough time with the transition because not only is she having a hard time connecting with her boyfriend while he’s away, but she’s also facing some family challenges that involve a grandmother she never knew and a mom who’s closing the doors on the possibilities of a reunion. Penna soon finds out that as her life begins to alter around her, so does she and wonders if she’ll be the same person David knew before he left for the war.

All very emotionally gripping, or possibly so if the delivery were just a bit more tight and solid. I don’ t feel anything was really accomplished and to just end at such a random spot seems a bit frustrating. I’ll also have to admit that the characters seemed a bit flat and forgettable. It’s been a few days since I read the book and I slightly struggled to remember their names. That can’t be very good.

Overall, this story did makes me interested to read other “boyfriend’s-gone-off-to-fight-the-war” type books, but I don’t think this is a best of examples on the possibilities of what could be delivered. Okay read that didn’t wow me or leave a lasting impression really…
Profile Image for ~Tina~.
1,092 reviews159 followers
May 26, 2012
While He Was Away is a story about going through the motions of being an army-girlfriend and all the hopes and sorrow that comes with it.

Beautifully and powerfully portrayed, David and Penna's story really hit something deep within me. I was surprised how invested I was with these characters since David wasn't physically present throughout the story, but Karen Schreck did a great job of connecting us with him and what he's going through on the other side. All those little moments during the phone calls and e-mails and drawings and Skype was so very touching. It just felt so real and so heartbreaking.
We also see what life is like for Penna, how much she misses David and how strong she is for him, but she has to move on, work, hang out with friends and learn to live for the time when she can talk to David again. She has to believe she can make it through this, so when she finds out that her grandmother is still alive and went through something very much similar to her situation, she knows that she has to find her. I really liked how this part of the story revolved around what was going on with Penna's personal life, it really complimented the story quite nicely.

My only issue would have to be that ending. Have you ever read If I Stay by Gayle Forman? Well if you have then you'll remember what it felt like before we found out that there was a sequel in the works. That's what the ending to this book felt like to me. That gut-wrenching need to know what happens next and the pain of possibly never knowing. My imagination only goes so far before it wants the real thing. So, Please tell me we're getting a sequel. It just can't end here!

Bottom line. I really just loved this one. It's realistic and so beautifully told. I can't wait to see what Schreck has in store for us next. I just hope she continues David and Penna's story.
Profile Image for Amy.
1,610 reviews164 followers
May 3, 2012
Have you ever forced yourself to read a book, hoping that it will get better?

Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. In the case of Karen Schreck's While He Was Away, it just didn't get better. At least not for me.

I really struggled to get into this book. I tried to care about Penna and David, she an 18-year-old on the cusp of her senior year of high school and he a high school graduate fresh out of boot camp and headed to Iraq. But you know it's bad when you hope the hero gets injured during a war.

Yes, I went there. Yes, I found myself thinking, "Please let something interesting happen. Maybe David can get shot? Maybe an IUD will explode near him, causing him injury?" I didn't hope for a debilitating injury, just ... something. I needed some kind of spark to keep reading this book.

The book begins with a motorcycle ride by Penna and David, their last before he leaves for Iraq. The first few days after his departure, Penna is a mess. She doesn't hear from him, and she is panicked. She and David's mother stay in close phone contact, each praying to hear from him soon. They do, but contact is sporadic at best.

While He Was Away is basically a love story between two teenagers trying to keep their relationship going under incredible strain and stress. Their romance decidedly is not a fairytale, whether due to him facing life-threatening situations or her fears running amok. You do find yourself rooting for them, although, like I said, there were times I kind of hoped David would call and say, "It's over," just so something interesting would occur.

It isn't that While He Was Away is a bad book; it's more that it moves really s-l-o-w-l-y, and I was not in the mood for something taking so long to unfold. Maybe if I had a hankering for a sweet, steady story, I'd have liked this more. As it is, I just sort of thought, "Eh."
1 review
May 15, 2013
The books plot is mainly about a girl named Penna. Penna is 18 years old and she she has a boyfriend named David. David is also 18 years old. David and Penna are really close then David joins the army and has to be deployed to Iraq. Penna was heart broken the day that she and Davids family saw him off at the airport. For the longest time she didn't know what to do with herself. One day her and her mother went up into the attic and Penna found an old photograph of her grandmother Justine, so while David was gone her goal was to find Justine even when her mother didn't want her to.
I enjoyed reading this book because it relates to my life and I know what its like to go though a deployment. Me and my boyfriend John have been together for years and its difficult. Penna and I have a lot in common because she has to find ways to deal with Davids deployment just like I have to with Johns. I sent letters, e-mails, and we do Skype calls. It takes a lot of strength to be with someone in the military.
I would recommend this book to people that could relate to the book. For me that was easy as I said before John is in the army. If your spouse is in any branch of Military, what I thought was interesting was they had tips for an army girlfriend at the end of the book. I would also recommend this book if your looking for insight of other peoples life's with military spouse. Over all the book is a great read and it was very enjoyable.
Profile Image for Paige  Bookdragon.
938 reviews606 followers
Want to read
January 19, 2016

I normally wouldn't read this kind of book (because llama drama) but Jeff is leaving for California, I'm alone and sad and I can fucking relate to the heroine.

description

Good thing he is just going to be chef there instead of joining any war.
Profile Image for Evie.
696 reviews921 followers
June 23, 2012
***Originally posted to: Bookish Book Blog |YA and Adult Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Guest Posts, Giveaways and news! ^___^



When I first heard about this book, I was hesitant to pick it up. Mainly because of its premise. I wasn't sure if I wanted to read a novel about teenage sweethearts separated by war. I admit, I was afraid that it would be either cheesy or over-dramatic, and I definitely didn't need another Hurt Locker. But then the reviews started pouring in, and they were all so gushy and enthusiastic, I knew I had to give this book a chance. And guys, I am so happy that I did! This book proved to be nothing short of brilliant. Absolutely and utterly amazing! Everything, from the poignant narrative voice, to the convincing characters and engaging plot, is excellent. It took me less than a day to devour it, and every moment I spent reading it was filled with emotions. In tender and almost poetic prose, Schreck captures not only the sweetness, anticipation and hopefulness of young love, but also angst, uncertainty and pain that comes from long-term separation. And she does it in a way that really pulls on your heart strings.

The premise of this book is very simple. A boy, a girl, first-love, and the war in Iraq. David signed up for the military service before Penna moved to Killdeer, but even if he could change his mind later, he probably wouldn't. It's something he wants/needs to do - for himself, for his family, for the country. He's scared, but also proud. He's a good kid, and although Penna's far from happy to see him go, she understands how much it means to him. And she promised him she'll wait for him as long as it takes. They will write letters and frequently call each other, and she will support him all the way through it. But that's the thing about life... Things don't always go as planned. Stuff happens. People change, bonds weaken, and fear and doubt slowly take over. In the end, the only thing that stays the same is the distance.

I honestly don't know what it is about this novel, but I absolutely adored it. It's a very melancholic and atmospheric read, full of warmth and thoughtfulness. And it's so incredibly authentic, so harrowing and moving.. I couldn't help but to fell under its charm. It is not a silly, cheesy romance, and definitely not a light summer fling. At the same time, though, it's not by any means a heavy or traumatizing story either. It's something in between, with just the perfect amount of happy and sad. It has its darker moments, when our characters go into withdrawal and seem to lose faith, but its overall tone is rather hopeful and positive. I liked how balanced it was, and how it made me feel a whole palette of emotions: from making me laugh, swoon, long, hope, to almost making me cry. Few books have ever given me so many feelings.

The characters.. oh, the characters! At times they are disturbingly real. There were moments when I felt like I was reading my own diary (and I know how weird it sounds, considering my husband never went to war). It's just that Penna's narrative voice was so authentic, vibrant and moving.. it really spoke to me! I was totally immersed in the story, to the point of losing track of time, skipping meals and - at times - forgetting to blink! I was mesmerized and spellbound, and I couldn't help but to sympathize with both Penna and David. I loved the chemistry between them. Their love was strong, beautiful and gentle, and it seemed more mature than what you usually see in YA. And let's not forget about Ravi, either! Ravi was another fascinating character, and one that really stood out to me. Sweet, charming, thoughtful and shy, he bounded with Penna and became her support system and a trusted friend. I can't put my finger on what it was exactly that made me like him so much, but I couldn't help it, I trusted him.

Overall, While He Was Away was a fantastic read, and one executed with utter skill and believability. It's a novel that takes two teenagers and a seemingly mundane premise, and turns it into a piece of fiction that is just as enthralling as it is touching, and just as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
Profile Image for Justin.
337 reviews232 followers
April 24, 2012
While He Was Away ended up being much more than I had first anticipated. I knew it was going to be a story about a couple being separated due to the guy going off to war. But I wasn't quite expecting the other things I found within this book. I was really impressed that Karen put a lot of effort into trying to figure out how people that are going through this with the Iraq war are impacted. I've never dealt with having a love one at war, nor can I imagine how it must feel. But from reading this book, I really felt like everything portrayed in it was believable.

The story is heart wrenching. It's sad enough seeing everything Penna goes through while David is away. There is so much to the story though. It's a story about the importance of family, and the things you can learn if you just take the time to ask. It's about how you can overcome loss and cherish the moments you have with the people you care about. It's just a beautiful story, while the main plot line revolves around Penna and David there is so much more that makes it even more powerful of a story than it would be just with that plot line.

I loved these characters. There is absolutely nothing about any of the characters in While He Was Away that I disliked. They are all extremely real and believable. With a story such as this, that is something you want to see. You really feel the sadness, happiness, and everything else that the characters feel while you're reading this book. Penna and David's relationship is put to a test, but you really find yourself pulling for them to make it through the things they're going through. And then you have Penna and David's friends that are there for her and try and do everything they can to keep her strong. Things get interesting once you learn more about Penna's family though, there are several characters I won't talk about but they have a huge impact on the story and really help make this story amazing.

I found the ending to be somewhat disappointing. This always tends to happen to me when I am really enjoying a story. I just really would of liked to have found out more of what happened with Penna, David and her family. There was closure, but I always feel like things could be explained a little better. I know that is a difficult thing to do with contemporary, especially since most of the times I run into this issue it's in a contemporary novel. I do think Karen did a good job wrapping things up. I think my disappointment simply comes from me trying to grasp for more, not that is was a bad ending.

While He Was Away is a great read. It has a powerful story that can really play with your emotions. Karen did an amazing job writing this novel, and as I mentioned above I love the fact that she went through so much effort to make this book feel real to readers. I really think she accomplished that, I know I felt it. I hope you all will check this book out whenever you get a chance. It's well worth it.
Profile Image for Reut.
312 reviews
October 26, 2012
Originally reviewed on reutreads, a young adult book blog.

*2.5 stars

You guys, I love learning about new things in my contemporary. It happens in Joan Bauer novels, it happens in John Green books, it happens in Ally Carter books, and it is awesome. Whether those things are shoes or stocks or spies, I love learning in books. Which is part of the reasons why I like this whole Marine/Army sub-genre I see starting in YA. So now we have a book like While He Was Away.

Guys, I'm sad to say this, but this book was just mediocre. Schreck is supposed to have a PhD in creative writing, and she also teaches it, but I didn't think her book would fall prey to terrible characterization and "meh" writing. Penna, our main character, was rather boring. At the beginning of the book, she takes a motorcycle ride with David before he's deployed, and randomly she yells out "Beauty is truth!" Girl tryna be a hipster? Maybe she should take lessons from my friend Hailey, who says things like, "I don't listen to weird music. The weirdest genre of music I listen to is goth folk."

That was nearly the most interesting thing she ever does. She is interested in art, yeah, but none of those plot lines were ever developed (likewise with an entire character who was just tossed in). The writing was also quite awkward, as I mentioned, and more than once the sentences just didn't make sense. I know I was reading an ARC, but these things felt like they were actually meant to be that way, they just... didn't make sense. Tomato, tomahto.

While He Was Away just couldn't figure out what it wanted to be, in my opinion. It had so much potential but I wish the characters, plot, emotions, etc. had been developed a lot more.
Profile Image for Lianna.
176 reviews20 followers
May 24, 2012
1 and 1/2 stars.

This book didn't keep my interest and it just ended on a cliffhanger type of note. It was so slow and just a bore. I feel like I'm forgetting what even happened in this book as I type this.
Profile Image for Angel.
446 reviews110 followers
July 13, 2012
You can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!

Source: ARC received from publisher

Tell Me More: Whirlwind romances, summer flings, desperate Romeo/Juliet situations--they're the stuff of teenage dreams and wishes. I'd be lying if I said I never wanted any of those things, and most people can attest to the same. There's something about being a teenager that makes one feel as though anything is possible and everything is open to you. Interestingly enough, the tag line for this novel is in that same optimistic vein: "Love can conquer any distance...right?" But While He Was Away suffers from much more than just distance between the two characters, and doesn't manage to raise itself from those depths in time for the ending.

I've spoken to former soldiers and learned about the military experience from ex-Navy SEALS and their families. I've read excellent Harlequins with military characters. So to a point, I can certainly agree that Karen Schreck's narrative rings true regarding the difficulties of living an army/navy life. I just could not get past the sheer immaturity of the characters. Penna is particularly grating--she is barely developed enough to be more than just David's girlfriend, and yet the story relies on her narration. Because she is so underdeveloped, there is very little to like about her (try as one might) and worse for the story, there is very little to care about. Penna's experiences as an Army Girlfriend (emphasis mine) had the potential to be compelling and powerful, and it was disappointing to see them reduced to scenes that had little to no emotional power.

The pacing of the story is extremely off-putting, which isn't helped by weak prose. Schreck goes from discussing one issue to another in a single paragraph, leaving the structure of the story without anything to hold on to. Other novels are able to transcend this problem with attention-grabbing characters and a strong overarching plot. Given that While He Was Away is such a closed, intimate story, Schreck's approach does not work for its benefit.

Beyond these problems with the story, I would have still recommended it to beginning YA readers, but there was one scene that bothered me enough to change my initial rating from a 2 to 1 star. Penna and David go on a website where they can "shoot" an Iraqi artist with paintballs. The simulation bothers Penna enough to have her hesitating, but David encourages her.
“Holy crap,” David said. He laughed nervously. He said it was my turn. “Come on,” David said. “Just think about 9/11. Shoot him.”
The artist was bent over, collecting the messy shreds of newspaper when I took my shot. I aimed off to the side, but even when the paintball just burst bloodily against the floor, I practically hyperventilated.
“I don’t like this,” I said.
David stuttered around for a little bit—9/11 this, 9/11 that. Finally he said he didn’t really like this either. Not really. The guy reminded him too much of Ravi. David rolled his eyes then. “Total stereotyping, right? Seen one, you seen ’em all. God. I sound like my worst enemy.” We left that site then and went somewhere else where we shot droids, not humans."

I understand that this may have been Schreck illustrating the stereotype, but the scene still made me angry enough to stop reading the book for a few days. My best friend is Muslim, and I dislike anything that insinuates, in any way, that people from any race are interchangeable, that they are all to blame for one evil act. I cannot stomach that ignorance, and it makes me angry that Schreck thought this would be the best way to illustrate her point.

The Final Say: While He Was Away is not a novel that offers anything new to the discussion of military life, both off and on the war front.

Profile Image for Majibookshelf Juhina & Farah.
143 reviews92 followers
May 29, 2012
I had hopes that While He Was Away would be an eye opening, emotional experience for me, but unfortunately, it was not that. I understood it was about a girl's boyfriend being drafted and going off to Iraq, and the struggles she will be facing once he was gone. However, throughout the whole book I did not feel any emotional connection towards Penna. I felt like there were too many things going on in the book. Unnecessary things that do not have any relation to the main plot of the book but were added to just increase the page count. Penna needing so much to look for her long lost grandmother all of a sudden raised a lot of question marks for me. Her weird relationship with her mother and blaming her for everything just ticked me off. I felt like she was the most ungrateful child ever! Even though her mother sacrificed SO MUCH for her, she still treated her like dirt and that totally rubbed me the wrong way.
Then we've got her relationship with David's fallen out best friend Ravi. After David left to Iraq, Penna had only a handful of encounters with him but somehow the idea of more kept on wedging in to the plot. I was just so confused on WHY would Penna even need to assure herself multiple times that he is just David's friend. Even though all they ever did was exchange a few awkward conversations. Yes, the plot could have gone in that direction, but with barely anything happening and for her to feel that way was just absurd.
To be honest, what really made me so disconnected with all the characters was a scene that happened with David and Penna. They went on a website to play this game where the target was an arabic guy, and the point of the game was to shoot red paintballs so they will splatter all over him (as if he is bleeding). While Penna was hesitant, David told her "Think of 9/11, he totally deserves this". Now THAT was so unbelievably offensive towards me and such an unbelievable generalization that I was stunned for a minute or two. I am muslim and arabic and like the rest of the world, I was horrified by what happened on 9/11. I really hate how as soon as people hear arabs and muslims nowadays they associate it with the act of terrorism. Which is why it hurt a little to read about that incident and I just lost all connection with these characters, which was why I just couldn't get into the story. I do know the author wanted to portray the reality of how many people think, I respect her for that, but I lost all connection or care for these characters after that.
All in All, While He Was Away held promise, however the main plot was not strong enough and the addition of many secondary plots somehow ruined the overall experience of the book. I hoped for more emotional, soul searching type of book, but that was not what I got. However, as always, if the book seems interesting, pick it up! you might enjoy it way more than I did.
Profile Image for heather - NightlyReading.
683 reviews91 followers
May 8, 2012
This book brought on many different emotions. Sadness, pride, love, fear, just to name a few.

Sadness

I felt sad for Penna. She was losing the one person who kept her stable. The one person that she felt that she could count on. He was leaving and it was very scary for her not knowing when she would see him again.

Pride

David was sure that he wanted to serve in the military. He had described it “as the right thing to do.” I was very proud that a young man made such an important decision and still felt that he had to do it. I hear of young men like this every day signing up for the armed forces and it makes me feel very proud to be an american!!!

I also felt pride for Penna being able to stand up to her mother enough to truly find out about her families’ past. I was so proud of her for how she just picked up a relationship with her long-lost grandmother.

Love

David and Penna truly belong together. I really felt the love between them just with the short amount of interaction that they had together.

Fear

Geesh, there was so much fear. Fear for David’s life while in Iraq would probably have been the number one reason. I also feared for their relationship. It takes a lot to keep a long distance relationship moving on.

This book is highly suggested for anyone whom has a loved one in the armed forces. There wasn’t really a wrap up ending per say, so I hope there will be a book 2?

“If you love something, let it go…”
570 reviews2 followers
May 17, 2012
So confused - uh, was that an ending? Not gonna lie, I didn't feel like that was an ending. It didn't conclude for me... I felt like I was left on a cliffhanger - even though this is a stand alone book (?) I guess it's one of those books where you don't really find out what happens in the end? Greeeaat!

Anyways, I did like it. But I felt so frustrated at times because this is a story about Peena and what happens when her boyfriend's away at war. The ending didn't help me out at all, and Peena still has her friends with her, but life is hard for her. And, this book just wasn't for me... It's really realistic, but I really just didn't like the ending.
Profile Image for Bips.
23 reviews33 followers
August 12, 2012
I loved this story. From the moment I started reading it, it sucked me right in. I don't usually like books like these and I have no idea what attracted me to read this one, but I just loved it. I sobbed almost through the whole story.

I loved the cover. The cover pretty much perfectly captures this couple and the emotions they are going through.

I loved David, though we have seen very little of him in this book, I really liked him.
Penna is portrayed as such a strong character, I loved her almost immediately.

The ending left me of the edge, although it was very-very sad I understood the way it was… the way it was. I really really hope Karen Schreck writes a sequel to this one because I am dying to read more about Penna and David
Profile Image for Zemira Warner.
1,569 reviews1,036 followers
May 9, 2012
I knew I shouldn't read this book. I knew it!

This book definitely isn't for those who want things to happen. LOL I know,this sounds weird,but nothing was happening. That's why it took me a couple of days to finish it. I felt bad for Penna and I feel bad for the real women who are waiting for their boyfriends/husbands/brothers to come back home.
Profile Image for Devyani.
420 reviews6 followers
Read
May 17, 2012
to be honest , i was unable to get inside the book . it didn't interest me much and it felt forced for when i picked up my tablet to read it .
and that for me is Not Cool .

Maybe i'll read it some other time , until then this book is not for me .
Profile Image for Alecia (The Staircase Reader).
945 reviews65 followers
March 9, 2020
I just picked up a used copy of While He Was Away by Karen Schreck at my local used book store. It was honestly a cover love pick. I couldn't walk away from this cover, so without reading the blurb or even looking at previous reviews I picked this bad boy up.

I do have to say, this story had promise at the beginning. I'm a sucker for novels that have to do with young love and trying to get through a big change such as enlisting in the military. There are so many hurdles you have to go through to become stronger at the end. So for the first few chapters of this novel, i was head over heels in love.

But then.... Everything changed.

A secret envelope was discovered.
and a mystery was set in place.

I felt this is where my feelings quickly took a turn for the worst. It started becoming more about uncovering her grandmother's story and less about the romance and hardships that come with the trope at hand. Wires were getting crossed and lines were getting blurred. And my interest was lost between all the different stories that were taken place in this one novel.

And don't even get me started on that ending.....
I was left completely confused and to this day I still don't know what the hell went on in that ending....

Overall, this book wasn't for me. I wish the author would have stayed on the path she was on in the beginning. If that were the case maybe my rating would be a bit different.

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Profile Image for Hannah.
499 reviews
March 11, 2012
I was so, so excited to read While He Was Away - I love the whole idea, and it looked right up my alley. I hate when I'm disappointed by a book I had such high hopes for, but sadly, that's the case with While He Was Away. I wouldn't say it's a bad book, but it didn't live up to my expectations.

While He Was Away turned out to be a little different from what I'd expected. I'm not sure why - maybe because of the last sentence of the description - but I thought it would be about the time when David comes back, about how war changed him, that kind of thing. Rereading the description, I know that's my fault, since it's clear it's actually about how David leaves and what happens immediately after he leaves, but still, I ended up a little disappointed, seeing how little the "war changed him" aspect is addressed.

But first, the postive: Family turns out to play a much more important part in the story than you could tell from the description, and I really liked that aspect. I don't want to spoil anything, but there's some family drama that relates to Penna's current situation. I liked reading about Penna's grandmother and her struggle with Alzheimer's, as well as how her family's past influences Penna now. That was probably my favorite part of the novel.

What I didn't like, though, are the characters. I started out disliking Penna because she's so dependent on her boyfriend. I know, it's got to be hard, knowing her boyfriend is in danger, but how much of her life revolves around him still bugged me. Even before David leaves for Iraq, at which point it would be understandable, David is the most important thing in her life - she has no real girlfriends, and she does art but that isn't mentioned all that much early on. It just bugged me how dependent Penna is on David, how he's more important than taking care of herself. Later on, as Penna becomes stronger and more independent, I liked her better, but I still don't feel like she's a great character - I never felt like I really got to know her. It seemed like the reader couldn't go beneath the surface to really understand who Penna is.

The secondary characters are okay. I liked reading about Ravi and wish he'd played a more important role. The two girls Penna befriends, Caitlyn and Julie, are kind of bland, and I don't think the reader gets to know enough of their personalities.

Then there's the relationship between David and Penna. I wanted to like this part, I really did. But I just couldn't feel their relationship. I wanted to get to know David, even though he's not here, and I wanted to feel his absence and what it means for Penna, but I didn't. I would have liked some more flashbacks, some more scenes to show how Penna and David used to be, because the way it is, I never felt the chemistry between the two. That made it hard for me to feel for Penna missing David.

One thing I did like is what we find out about Iraq. I don't know much about the subject, so it was interesting to hear from David what it's like, serving in Iraq. I liked reading about life as a soldier, and especially about the orphanage and how that ties into the story.

I didn't care for the characters or the romance, so that made it hard for me to get into this book. It didn't make me feel all the things I was hoping it would. Still, While He Was Away isn't a bad book - I might have just had too high expectations, since this was one of my most-anticipated 2012-releases. I don't want to discourage you from reading this book - it just didn't make me, personally, feel as much as I had hoped it would. It's not a bad book, but it won't be going on my favorites-shelf, like I had thought it would when I first heard about it.

Reviewed at http://www.paperbacktreasures.blogspo...
Profile Image for Mitchii.
802 reviews254 followers
May 18, 2012
2.5/5

I tried to like this book. But in the end, we didn’t get along.

I don’t have a huge expectations with While He Was Away, I just wanted a light read, maybe some drama, or romance. So I decide to read this one last night. But for something that is short, I noticed that it was taking me a while to get there. Until I realized I will never get to my desired endpoint. The reality is the book and I have different destination.

I ‘get’ the story but I failed to connect to everything there was to connect. The story? the characters? the romance? Nothing, as in nada, zilch, zero. And it wasn’t that it was terrible because definitely it was not. The book was so plain to me. This is a story of two lovers who were separated, I was kinda assumed that it will give me something in an emotional level but the plainness of the story left me detached.

Just like what the title implied, the story is about Penna while her boyfriend was away. David enlisted himself to military and was sent off to Middle East to do his duty. Penna left with her missing him and was struggling to keep their communication intact. But it was getting harder as time went by. Penna also tried to know more about Justine, who also had the same experience as her.

There are a lot of characters in this book; I don’t know which ones are which. There’s David her boyfriend. Linda who I assumed was her mother (I don’t understand why she called her by her first name, but admittedly I sort of skimmed a few pages so I might miss that detail). Ravi, David’s friend who has problem of his own, about his future, him going back to school, work and family related (which I originally thought will end falling in love with Penna . Since one of David’s email to her has a slight indication of jealousy? and wanted to know how they interacted). Then there are Jules Caitlin, Zach, Tom, Justine and maybe some more. For me it’s a lot to take in. I felt that the book was trying to send me some message here, that perhaps each one of them represents something important with the story—to Penna. I just don’t know what it was. If there were really was. Only when I read some tips at the end of the book that having friends (who understand your situation) to keep you company is essential.

Now that I mentioned about the tips. That’s the only interesting thing I find in the book. Penna and how she dealt with the separation was little impassive to me that I didn’t feel the weight of her feelings—for him and her constant thoughts of his safety. I don’t think I have to experience it just to have an emotional connection, there are books that led me to tears and I haven’t experience the actual thing.

The ending will leave you confused and hanging. I felt there’s room for more but at the same time I’m grateful because I’m tired, and not in the mood to go on because like I said we have different goals. Maybe readers like Penna (army girlfriend) will like this more than I did. Let me repeat it: it wasn’t a bad book; I apologize for throwing some cliché here but let’s just say we’re just too different. ;)
Profile Image for Brenna.
333 reviews115 followers
May 1, 2012
While He Was Away had such a description that instantly stood out to me, and I knew it was one I would want to read once it came out. But I was utterly taken back when I was reading it, because it was so much more moving and striking than I ever thought it would be.

Reasons to Read:

1.A sympathetic story:

I've never been in either David or Penna's position, so I can't speak for a minute to what they went through as he left for Iraq. I have no idea what that would be like for a couple, but I have to tell you how much my heart bled for the two of them; it was absolute agony as Karen expertly wove her story of David and Penna and their transition to this change. But it was worth it. As Penna questioned the war her boyfriend was fighting in, the nature of love and so much more, I found myself asking the same things along with her.

2.A coming of age story:

I really liked that David and Penna were just a bit older than most other YA characters (the story takes place the summer before Penna's senior year begins and just after David has graduated) so they're adults technically, but still very young ones. Penna's struggles with her mother and trying to be supportive for David are perfect indicators of the stage she's at in her own life. I think there's something very endearing about that.

3.A REAL romance story:

David and Penna don't live in a fairytale, they live in the real world with very real problems. Their story is one that many couples go through, but isn't as shared as often as it should be. And it's truly heartbreaking to watch it all unfold as you read their story in While He Was Away. All you want is for them to be together, and the aching they feel for each other is so fierce it just radiates off the pages. Yet they are so sweet and caring towards each other, it made my heart melt a little bit for them. THIS is a book couple to root for, and they need that support.

My one, tiny, minuscule complaint was that there were times when the plot itself moved along rather slowly. Not too much would be happening, because most of the story revolves around Penna's internal dialogue and personal transformation. Because of that, the story didn't feel as fully fleshed out and revealed as it could have been, which is why I'm hoping to read more about David and Penna to see where they end up (especially with that ending). Just throwing it out there, but I think it would be great to hear some more of their story from David's perspective because I imagine it would be drastically different from Penna's point of view!

It's also kind of neat to see the other stories going on as Penna explores life without David, and the other people around her. There's a lot to be told with those stories as well, although I wish a bit more background had been given.

This is truly an impeccable story of growing up, and the changes which occur within individuals and in their relationships with those around them. It keeps tugging at your heart, and it just doesn't let go.

E-galley received from publisher for blog tour via Net Galley.
Profile Image for Kassiah.
798 reviews85 followers
May 22, 2012
I've been flip-flopping on exactly what to say about this book since I read it. There are parts that I absolutely loved. And there are parts (like the end)--not so much.

I loved the cover. A lot of times, the cover doesn't match the book or what I think the couple looks like. This isn't the case with this book. The cover pretty much perfectly captures this couple and the emotions they are going through.

I felt like the Summary was a little misleading though: She knows in her heart he will come home. But will he be the same boy she fell in love with? David is deployed for fifteen months. This book only covers the summer, so we don't know anything about if he comes home the same boy she fell in love with.

Penna's an upcoming high-school senior who loves art. She's also totally in love with her boyfriend, David, who has just deployed to Iraq. He's crazy about her, too. Dealing with the grief of separation from David, Penna spends her time writing him constantly and getting a job at her mother's Bar & Grill. She meets Caitlin, one of the servers there, and Tom, the bartender who's been there forever. She also connects with David's childhood friend, Ravi, and Caitlin's friend who has a boyfriend who has also been deployed.

One day, Penna stumbles across a letter and a photograph of her grandmother, Justine. Since Justine abandoned Penna's mother, Linda, when she was a little girl, Penna has never met her. She decides to find her and that starts her on a journey that ultimately leads to discovering a lot about herself.

What did I like? I liked Penna. I liked her personality and felt like she was authentic. I loved that even though she felt weak, she made herself be strong. I liked her friends, and I really liked Justine and her history. I also liked David.

What wasn't so great for me? Definitely, the end sucked. I felt absolutely no closure at all. What could have been a really good book for me was practically ruined by the ending. I understood what was going on with David and think that lack of communication and security in relationships happens a lot. I just hope this isn't an emerging trend in YA books. I want romance and swoon.

I also felt like there were parts that were slow and I wanted more to happen. Or for what was going on to seem to mean something. I also did not understand Ravi's presence.

It's a quick read and definitely great for younger teens and anyone who likes YA Contemporary. Overall, I liked this book. I could have loved it, though.
Profile Image for 04TrishB.
9 reviews1 follower
January 11, 2013
Whirlwind romances, summer flings, desperate Romeo/Juliet situations–they’re the stuff of teenage dreams and wishes. I’d be lying if I said I never wanted any of those things, and most people can attest to the same. There’s something about being a teenager that makes one feel as though anything is possible and everything is open to you. Interestingly enough, the tag line for this novel is in that same optimistic vein: “Love can conquer any distance…right?” But While He Was Away suffers from much more than just distance between the two characters, and doesn’t manage to raise itself from those depths in time for the ending.

I’ve spoken to former soldiers and learned about the military experience from ex-Navy SEALS and their families. I’ve read excellent Harlequins with military characters. So to a point, I can certainly agree that Karen Schreck’s narrative rings true regarding the difficulties of living an army/navy life. I just could not get past the sheer immaturity of the characters. Penna is particularly grating–she is barely developed enough to be more than just David’s girlfriend, and yet the story relies on her narration. Because she is so underdeveloped, there is very little to like about her (try as one might) and worse for the story, there is very little to care about. Penna’s experiences as an Army Girlfriend (emphasis mine) had the potential to be compelling and powerful, and it was disappointing to see them reduced to scenes that had little to no emotional power.

Beyond these problems with the story, I would have still recommended it to beginning YA readers, but there was one scene that bothered me enough to change my initial rating from a 2 to 1 star. Penna and David go on a website where they can “shoot” an Iraqi artist with paintballs. The simulation bothers Penna enough to have her hesitating, but David encourages her.


“Holy crap,” David said. He laughed nervously. He said it was my turn. “Come on,” David said. “Just think about 9/11. Shoot him.”
The artist was bent over, collecting the messy shreds of newspaper when I took my shot. I aimed off to the side, but even when the paintball just burst bloodily against the floor, I practically hyperventilated.
“I don’t like this,” I said.
David stuttered around for a little bit—9/11 this, 9/11 that. Finally he said he didn’t really like this either. Not really. The guy reminded him too much of Ravi. David rolled his eyes then. “Total stereotyping, right? Seen one, you seen ’em all. God. I sound like my worst enemy.” We left that site then and went somewhere else where we shot droids, not humans.”

I understand that this may have been Schreck illustrating the stereotype, but the scene still made me angry enough to stop reading the book for a few days. My best friend is Muslim, and I dislike anything that insinuates, in any way, that people from any race are interchangeable, that they are all to blame for one evil act. I cannot stomach that ignorance, and it makes me angry that Schreck thought this would be the best way to illustrate her point.
Profile Image for Jay.
514 reviews370 followers
May 28, 2012
I had hopes that While He Was Away would be an eye opening, emotional experience for me, but unfortunately, it was not that. I understood it was about a girl's boyfriend being drafted and going off to Iraq, and the struggles she will be facing once he was gone. However, throughout the whole book I did not feel any emotional connection towards Penna. I felt like there were too many things going on in the book. Unnecessary things that do not have any relation to the main plot of the book but were added to just increase the page count. Penna needing so much to look for her long lost grandmother all of a sudden raised a lot of question marks for me. Her weird relationship with her mother and blaming her for everything just ticked me off. I felt like she was the most ungrateful child ever! Even though her mother sacrificed SO MUCH for her, she still treated her like dirt and that totally rubbed me the wrong way.

Then we've got her relationship with David's fallen out best friend Ravi. After David left to Iraq, Penna had only a handful of encounters with him but somehow the idea of more kept on wedging in to the plot. I was just so confused on WHY would Penna even need to assure herself multiple times that he is just David's friend. Even though all they ever did was exchange a few awkward conversations. Yes, the plot could have gone in that direction, but with barely anything happening and for her to feel that way was just absurd.

To be honest, what really made me so disconnected with all the characters was a scene that happened with David and Penna. They went on a website to play this game where the target was an arabic guy, and the point of the game was to shoot red paintballs so they will splatter all over him (as if he is bleeding). While Penna was hesitant, David told her "Think of 9/11, he totally deserves this". Now THAT was so unbelievably offensive towards me and such an unbelievable generalization that I was stunned for a minute or two. I am muslim and arabic and like the rest of the world, I was horrified by what happened on 9/11. I really hate how as soon as people hear arabs and muslims nowadays they associate it with the act of terrorism. Which is why it hurt a little to read about that incident and I just lost all connection with these characters, which was why I just couldn't get into the story. I do know the author wanted to portray the reality of how many people think, I respect her for that, but I lost all connection or care for these characters after that.

All in All, While He Was Away held promise, however the main plot was not strong enough and the addition of many secondary plots somehow ruined the overall experience of the book. I hoped for more emotional, soul searching type of book, but that was not what I got. However, as always, if the book seems interesting, pick it up! you might enjoy it way more than I did.
Profile Image for Maddy .
8 reviews
June 4, 2012
Penna Weaver’s boyfriend, David, is leaving for Iraq for a year. Sure, long distance relationships are tough. But they were gonna make it work. They were gonna write, call, email, they won’t let anything come between them, right? It’s only a year. David was going away to fight and protect his country, he was putting his life before everything. But a lot can change in a year. Penna could change. David could change. What if David was never to return home? Penna has to learn to deal with these questions and difficulties while David is away, and while he is away she learns to make some new surprising friendships.

This book wasn’t one of my favorites, but it wasn’t awful either! It’s just that it gets really slow a lot of the times and I found it hard to focus and finish the book. It was sad and cute and did make me a little emotional at one point, but it still wasn’t my favorite and I wouldn’t really recommend it to many people. It definitely wasn’t the worst book ever though, so that’s a plus!

I give this book two out of five stars. Because like I said, it wasn’t my favorite and is really slow at most of the time. The first half of the book was especially slow, the other half of the book wasn’t that bad. It just is not one of my favorites, but that’s okay, maybe it just wasn’t that good of a book to me and it was a great book to someone else!

Profile Image for Windy.
118 reviews17 followers
February 23, 2013
my casting for Penna and David  photo 9809018f_zps6b8b48e0.jpg  photo TaylorLautner83_zps74411d2c.jpg this was a 3.5 stars for me was a beautiful heartbreaking at times story a look at how girlfriends of a soilder deals and supports her solider the only thing that made it not not higher stars is i would have loved the book to go through the whole year and have David come back to have a HEA i really wanted to see that but it just kinda ended and was a little diapointed in that would have really liked to see this  photo ZackandI-1_zpsb0c2aa8b.jpg
Profile Image for Ilene.
1,046 reviews16 followers
September 18, 2013
The cover is beautiful...that is about ALL the nice things I have to say about the book.

I need a HEA BUT the very least I need some type of completion. Even if its sad, I may not like it but something is better then nothing. This story had so much potential with Daniel and Penna. But then all the other characters. The story was way more about Justine. I get the symbolism/parallels between Owen & Justine to Daniel & Penna's relationships.

To me thus book was a cliffdangler, yes that's right not a cliffhanger b/c there isn't a dramatic what is coming next. It's a dangler b/c there are so many possibilities as to what could happen next. If there is a follow up to this book I would greatly increase my rating.

I get the fact the enlisting and war is unpredictable and to often there are no HEA's but that is why I am reading a made up story because I feel it needs one. I mean does anyone EVER say I am too happy, I need some heart ache???? NEVER!!!
Profile Image for Shaikha J 140A571.
2 reviews1 follower
June 12, 2013
A love story between a guy called David and a girl called Pena , They are 18 years old ,David join the army and he have to go to Iraq war for months and leave his girl friend alone. David was sending a letters for Pena everyday and Pena answer his letters . David's letters were too short , he tell her that he is fine and so on but Pena want him to tell her more such as, what he eat and when and why and where ! all these questions were in Pena's mind. She miss him a lot and she tell him that in every letter but he don't and Pena not sure about the reason. Day after day Pena feel sad and she want to be busy with something to make her thinking about her boyfriend less. David is always busy with the war and that's why he don't have that free time like Pena's do. The ending was unaccepted and surprising in the same time. I'll not say that I hate it or love it because it was and it will still a good reading experience.
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