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Something like Normal

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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.

224 pages, Hardcover

First published June 19, 2012

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About the author

Trish Doller

10 books1,882 followers
Hi, I'm Trish! I don't really visit goodreads too often, but you can find me on both Instagram and Twitter as @trishdoller. Instagram is my favorite, so look there first. I don't bite, so come say hello!

(Note: I'm sorry that don't have any review copies for my books. You'll have to contact the publisher.)

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Profile Image for Stacia (the 2010 club).
1,045 reviews3,955 followers
September 2, 2012

"You might not remember me, but --"
"Travis Stephenson," she interrupts, her words like a roadblock. "Welcome home. Now leave me alone."

It's always nice to come across a book that has a little bit of everything. Something Like Normal definitely covered its bases in the emotion department. If there was an emotion left to be discovered, I couldn't tell you what it was. Everything from fear, anger, joy, sorrow, caution and anticipation was explored. This particular (male) narrative was somewhat different because his story revolves around living life while continuing to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to his lingering pain and recollections of what happened during his time spent on tour in Afghanistan.
"I left everything the way it was," she says as I drop my bag on the floor. "So it would feel familiar. Like home." I don't tell her that it doesn't feel like home at all.

The voice of Travis sounds like the voice of a guy you might know. When he's not suffering from reliving the harsh reality of his life through nightmares, he's drinking and fighting and screwing just like any other guy. I appreciated the balance in his tough guy persona as he explored a missed opportunity of being with the girl he'd always had his eye on.
Harper comes up alongside me, all green eyes and tousled hair. I could probably look at her forever and not get tired of that face.

She's a good kisser. So good I want to beat the hell out of whoever taught her.

She beams at me and it's almost enough to make up for the fact that I'm harder than trigonometry right now.

Okay, so maybe those lines bordered on cheesy but they made me smile. It's always nice to see a bit of sweetness or humor interjected into a serious subject. There was a diner scene which happened to be quite funny. It's not quite as good as another famous diner scene from another book but I still had a big grin on my face while reading it.

It was also nice to see the bond between male friends who have been to hell and back through war, yet can still joke around with each other.
"I still have my half of the necklace, and last night I wrote in my diary, 'Dear Diary, Kenneth is my BFF. I hope he gets laid, because it's a special night when a man loses his virginity and contracts a sexually transmitted disease at the same time.'"

I thought I was safe from the crying thing because for whatever reason, the flashback scenes sort of played out in my head as an old black and white movie and didn't seem to completely move me. Then the last couple of chapters happened and a lone tear fell from my eye (cue sad music). Don't worry though. The book has plenty of hope to go around. I thought the author did a great job of showing the rough road of healing that was ahead for our main character.

If I had to mention one of my favorite things about Travis it's that he was not without flaws, yet he still managed to recognize and take responsibility for the bad things he had done to the one girl who had every right not to forgive him. Watching the relationship develop between Travis and Harper was sweet to witness. Neither one was able to guarantee the other much more than what they could give in the moment and I liked that. Realistic relationships for young people = my stamp of approval.
I can't make that kind of promise when I'm only nineteen and owe the Marine Corps three more years of active duty. Anything could happen.

If I had to come up with any complaint it would be that there were a few moments which made me feel uncomfortable as Travis described the enemy. I do understand though that this is the "trained" mentality of war. War forces you into an us vs. them, regardless of who you're fighting.

This was a sweet book with a realistic love story. War is not pretty, nor are the aftereffects, but it was nice to see that hope does have a chance of winning out with the right support system around you, whether it be friends, family, or a special loved one.
I don't know if my life will ever be completely normal again, but something like normal is a good start.

Profile Image for Maja (The Nocturnal Library).
1,013 reviews1,891 followers
June 27, 2012
Before I start praising Something Like Normal, I need to point out a little thing that’s really bothering me: the cover is doing this book a great disservice. This is not a romance. There is a guy and there is a girl, and they do get together eventually, but the guy is suffering from PTSD and the girl is his lifeline, and all they’re both trying to do is chase away the nightmares. This is, above all, a book about survival, loss and guilt. The couple on the cover seems somehow less than appropriate, or at least misleading.

After spending seven months in Afghanistan, Travis Stephenson has returned home for a 30-day leave. He is supposed to spend some time with his family and relax, but home isn’t home anymore, and Trav is having a hard time functioning among normal people. His family was never exactly warm; in fact, his overbearing father was the main reason Travis enlisted in the Marines. While he was away, his girlfriend started a relationship with his younger brother, his father started cheating on his mom, and he doesn’t feel that he belongs anywhere except in the muddy pits of Afghanistan, where he spent the most intense days of his life and lost his best friend Charlie. Spending time with Harper, a girl he knew back in high school, helps, but PTSD isn’t something that just goes away when you fall in love.

Trish Doller did her research, and she did it well. Writing about young soldiers in a war that’s so fresh was risky and brave, and I was more than a little worried. I was afraid she’d either idealize those boys, or completely fail to dig under the surface, but her raw honesty stunned me. Nobody is idealized in this story, not even Afghan children, and the truth is told – the good and the bad parts.
Travis is a very complex character. Severely damaged, afraid of every sudden move and loud sound, he still longs for the adrenaline rush he gets from patroling the streets of Afghanistan. He feels completely detached from anything that’s even close to normal. He can’t even get mad at his brother for appropriating his life while he was away. His actions aren’t always easily acceptable, but they make sense in light of his condition.

Doller’s story is very emotionally demanding. It is never melodramatic; in fact, she approaches true pain and horror very matter-of-factly, which forces the reader to accept them in the same way. On her GoodReads page, Doller listed Cath Crowley, Kirsty Eagar and Melina Marchetta as her influences. It’s something I could have guessed on my own after reading her debut. Maybe she lacks Crowley’s magical touch, Eagar’s exceptional rawness or Marchetta’s finesse, but she is a force to be reckoned with. Give her a couple more books, and she’ll be standing with the very best.

Also posted at The Nocturnal Library
Profile Image for Ariana.
938 reviews1,301 followers
March 20, 2015
“War is only half the battle” - what a beautiful tagline <3

Dear Travis,

I know you’ve been through a lot and I care for you with all my heart.
I love the honesty with which you describe your world with the good and the bad, I love how you know when you’re wrong, how you are sad to be right, how you want to say you’re sorry but the apologies get stuck in your throat, how happy you would be to find some light in the darkness of your nightmares, how much you need to be held in fragile arms because you are so afraid that you will break apart.
I love the way you keep holding on even though it is not easy for you; how you help your mother even when it’s none of your business; how you allow yourself to love and be loved even though you’ve made it all so hard for yourself. Yeah, I get that you were young and restless (LOL) but you were a bit stupid too, and that stupidity is catching up quite fast with you now.. right?
I was so sad seeing that you still had feeling for your ex, but I was more than happy to see that you did realize that there was someone better waiting for you out there.

Also I know that it is hard to forget your best friend; that you wish you could turn back time; that you could save him somehow. I know that you feel like you are losing your mind and I understand that grieve might do that to a person, but hold on there, dear, be strong.. You can make it, you can have what your friend never will – you can be happy with the girl you want, you can have a future, you can hug your mom and tell her how much you love her for being so awesome, you can hope for a better day, you can make friends when the old ones become strangers, you can go back and relive your good old memories in your dreams and then you can wake up and just live..
You can do that – for you, for your loved ones, for Charlie.


This being said, did I love this story?
Yes I did, because in a twisted kind of way I enjoyed Travis’s struggle, the pain he was going true. It made him feel like a real person, with realistic feelings and insecurities, and regrets.
… Because I loved Travis and his mother (when I become a mother I want to be just like her), and I liked Harper so much ‘cause she was cute and spontaneous and the best thing that could have happened to Travis.
… Because the writing seemed so genuinely honest and the conversations sometimes painfully realistic… I can’t even put into words how much I enjoyed every page of this story.

Reviewer's notes:
I am not sure why people go to war, and I am not sure why there must be a war in the first place. You see, this is a crappy world because the ones that are supposed to be fighting (as behind it all there are always a handful of men that only take the decision that there must be a war, but they never take any part in it) are safe in their houses while innocent people get trapped into this whole mess, killing and being killed, causing pain and more pain – and you see, the winners are not the ones that are on the ‘winning side’, are the ones that have less loss on their side.
What a cruel world we are living in. We never learn from our mistakes, there’s always someone looking for power and destruction, and there’s always someone on the other side of the coin.

I can’t even imagine how Travis must feel – with the conscience full of people that have died at his hand, with his best friend lost in a war that wasn’t even theirs, without knowing what normal is anymore, not knowing how to be himself again.
Maybe some day we will learn to appreciate not only our life, but the life of others too; maybe someday this will be only a story, some fiction that someone will enjoy without the fear that it might be real for someone, somewhere…

‘Til then, happy reading!

This review can also be found at ReadingAfterMidnight.com
Book Source: An ARC kindly provided to me by the publisher for review.

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Profile Image for Carla.
291 reviews69 followers
January 20, 2019
Wow. Don't even know what to say. Speechless. Unflinchingly beautiful in that raw special way. Best contemporary novel I've read in a long long time.


Sometimes you finish reading a book and you don't quite know what to do with yourself. You sit in the quiet and thoughts are richocheting off each other in your mind and your heart aches from happiness, you then you get that feeling. You know the one. Where it feels like something has planted roots inside you and it's growing, growing, growing. And it grows so fast and quick that before you know it, it's everywhere. All inside you. It's in your head and it's in your heart and it's under your skin. That's this book.

What can I say that hasn't been said hundreds of times about hundreds of books. Read this book? nope, not strong enough. A promising debut? nah, too trite. I love this book, and so will you! true, but not quite what I'm looking for. I'm trying hard to not just type the words "love" and leave it at that, because really, that's all I want you guys to know. That I love this book. I love this book so much that I can't forget it. So much that I don't want to forget it. So much that I have carried it around with me ever since I finished. And I think you will love it to, and I'm going to tell you why.

Travis is home on leave after spending the past year in Afghanistan wearing a really sexy uniform serving his country in the marines. His family are waiting at the airport, except, this is weird right? this shouldn't feel so strange to Travis, this is home, but this is some fucking weird shit. His mom is super YAY happy to see him (ILY Travis's mom!!), his dad is a major dickface as per usual and his brother is being a total dude and banging his "girlfriend", so basically it's a shite welcome home. Not to mention that his comrade and BFF 4 LYF Charlie died in combat, which blows chunks the size of fists. Throw in the fact that he can't handle life in this town where guns aren't shooting and bombs aren't blasting and nightmares are tearing him to shreds and well, Travis is a bit, shall we say.....fucked. And there is the matter of a hot girl who has a mean right hook aka Harper aka The Boss aka The Shit aka BE MY FRIEND PLEASE?

Travis? I would hit that like a freight train.


Trish has a way of intoxicating you with her characters. You start off with Travis and you're like, oh shit, this burns a little and it's hard to swallow and it makes you shudder and do weird hand gestures. Then you want some more and now it doesn't burn so much, now it's smooth skin with a bit of a kick. And it goes down so good that before you know it you feel all buzzed and excited. Then you get a taste of Harper and you're like WELL HOLY SHIT, she's like straight up tequila shots right to your brain. And by this point you're like I LOVE YOU ALL. I LOVE EVERYTHING. GROUP HUG. Because you're all drunk off these characters.

Okay, in all seriousness, Trish knows where it's at when it comes to realistic characters. I have never wanted to punch a fictional dude in the face so badly. Because Travis! Y U NO LISTEN. He makes bad choices and does some stupid things and I'm like, duuuuuuuuude what gives? And Harper is so kick ass it is not even funny. She's feisty and sassy and in my head she wears a leather jacket and smokes cigarettes and listens to 80's rock and drives a convertible that's all black and shiny (leave me be! that's what my brain thinks is cool!!!!1!) She doesn't actually do any of those things but whatevs, that's not the point. My point is this - never before have I known characters to feel so real to me. I think should they stroll into my house right this second, well, I wouldn't even bat an eyelid. They're so genuine that I have a hard time believing they're not real. (no jokes, I spent a good half hour convinced they were real and Trish was playing a joke on us). They are flawed and engaging and so full of love it fucking hurts.
I had this whole speil in my head about Travis and Harper and you know what, I don't even want to tell you guys. Because the best things are left unsaid and this isn't something you want to read about here; that's something waiting for you to discover. So go find the treasure.

And the writing is a dream. Proper lush. Lush enough to devour in one go without stopping for breath. And to say it packs a punch is an understatement. It will kick you relentlessly, it will tear at your heart and squeeze and sqeeze until you feel like you're going to burst. Then it will soothe you with hugs and tender touches. It is in a word; devastating. Her writing is devastating to behold. One of the best books I have ever read.

I'm stopping now, I promise (soz for the rambling folks). But let me just leave you with this - Words are funny things. They can be shared and passed along. They can form connections between people, no matter the distance. They have power. They can light sparks of thought in your minds and set fire to your heart. They can start wars and end them. And they can be put together into sentences, to make paragraphs, which then become books. And when they're put together in the right way by the right person, they can become something amazing. And that is this book. This book isn't something like normal. It isn't even something like amazing. It's something the likes of which you have never read before. And you are going to love it.
Profile Image for Hallie.
954 reviews124 followers
February 24, 2013
Okay, this is tough, because some of my reading friends have liked this one a lot, and I can see the story in there that was liked so much, but.

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 (GR blurb, for anyone who might see this via updates.)

The story of a young guy returning from Afghanistan as a Marine, suffering from PTSD and not getting the help he needs from the military is a good one, and one talking about a situation that's far from new, and needs to be highlighted. And Travis didn't have it easy at home, with a jerk of a father who rejected him for not following in his professional football-playing footsteps. He doesn't even want to come home on leave, but has no choice. His struggles to open up to his loving mother, and try to build a relationship with her based on honesty and communication, are well depicted and moving.

But then there's the girls. There are two main girls in the book, Paige (the ex-girlfriend) and Harper (the potential girlfriend), and there's just a bit of a slut/good girl dichotomy going on. No, wait - they are total polar opposites. Paige is the slut. She dumped Travis while he was in Afghanistan (there's a 'but' to that one I'll get to), took up with his younger brother Ryan, and was probably cheating on Ryan even before Travis gets back and she cheats on Ryan with Travis. Here are just a few lines describing her. "She laughs her smoky, sexy laugh and kisses my cheek, her boobs - which her parents bought for her fifteenth birthday - brushing against my arm." "My mom thinks she looks cheap. I think Paige belongs on the cover of Maxim in nothing but her underwear, which is exactly why I was attracted to her in the first place." Harper says: "Paige Manning slept her way through the senior class, including your brother, while you were gone, and I'm considered a slut." Harper, on the other hand, is described first by Travis as "overdressed", compared to another girl (I'll come back to), with only a little bit of skin showing between jeans and t-shirt. (Paige doesn't dress that modestly, oh no!) But from then on, she's hot. And the best is that she's an actual virgin - it's all Travis' fault (somewhat unlikely, to my mind, that their school would react like this, but hey), but in case we don't get the Good Girl message, large as it is written, she works hard, is going to study marine biology in college, and spends many of her nights on the beach, helping to protect the baby sea-turtles. Now, let me be very clear about this - for the most part, I think Harper is a likeable character. And Paige is horrible. BUT the good girl/slut binary doesn't stop with Paige and Harper. There are two more girls mentioned in any significant way in the book, and they are both sluts. The less significant one, Amber, is said to look like "an Internet port star - and not necessarily in a good way." And when Travis' Marine buddies come down to visit him, the butt-of-jokes, can't-get-laid one hooks up with her and Travis and Harper are all grossed out by the mental images. As you would be, right? But it's nothing about the guy, of course.

And the other girl, Lacey, is the one that really pushed me over the edge, and made me think that all the guys in this book are just AWFUL, though the author doesn't seem to think so.

We rode the same bus in middle school and I remember her stop was beside a crummy trailer park next to the bridge to Fort Myers Beach. No one wanted to sit beside her because she smelled like pee and Michalski called her FBR--short for Free Breakfast kid-- because she was poor enough to be on the breakfast plan. Back then she used to charge five dollars to make out with her behind the portables. Now she's already starting to look rough and she's barely legal.

If there were any indication that Travis understood how cruel he'd been to go along with that taunting it might have been somewhat different, but there isn't. Oh, but Lacey is a slut with a heart of gold, because she tells Travis she'll hurt him if he hurts Harper again. "She's my friend, Travis," she says. "Amber and me ..., Harper isn't the same as us at all, but she doesn't judge. She's the best person I know..." Did readers miss the fact that Harper isn't like Paige, Amber and Lacey? Just in case, there it is in Lacey's words, and she'd know, right?

Travis, of course, has the shallow, (man-)slutty past behind him, and though he still screws up and hurts Harper, he's changed, so this can't really be a vicious double-standard with what's okay for the guys unacceptable for the girls, right? (Well, aside from the fact that the author wrote it so that the slutty girls are sluts for life, while he can grow to be the true hero.) Yes, even aside from that, it is. When Travis and Paige were together, he says they cheated on each other all the time. Wasn't just Paige after all. When Travis and his new friends had a few days pre-deployment to go home, they went to NYC instead, where they all tried to get laid. Travis gets together with a friend of one of his pal's gf-for-the-night, who will only let him kiss her, no matter how hard he tries, but as a reward, presumably, for being nice and agreeing even expecting her to be "a dog", he says "the gods of getting laid smiled on me for the rest of the weekend." He certainly earned that blessing from the gods - a dog!?! When his two friends come down to see him, he continues the teasing of the hapless (i.e. can't-get-laid) Kevlar, including pretending he doesn't know Harper and will get a kiss from her before breakfast is over. (Why Harper doesn't think this is a bit demeaning, I've no idea.) He considers "hooking Kevlar up with Lacey Ellison. He could finally get laid." (Harper vetoes that one, saying she won't "pimp" her friends out to the Marines. ) Kevlar does manage to get laid, to much congratulatory joshing - though it's with Amber, who is in fact actually an "exotic dancer". Or as Travis says, a stripper, which "doesn't surprise me. Taking off her clothes for money is within her skill set." And while Travis has learned to the extent of valuing Harper, in the final pages, he writes a letter to his dead friend, and updates him on Kevlar: "The last time we talked, which has been a while, he claimed to have a seriously hot girlfriend but won't show me any pictures, so I call shenanigans. She's probably a whale."

I suppose the only reason there was no fat-phobia in the book before this was because there was no possible way any of these girls could be fat. Because they're either cheap-hot or good girl-hot, and therefore, by definition, skinny. Busty, of course, but skinny. I just do not like the attitudes towards females portrayed in this book. Not one bit.

Interestingly, Travis gets a second pardon from Harper after being a real jerk to her - and it's because he finally melts down over his friend's death and how it's his fault - so she comforts him (and they have sex). I think the book as a whole is giving him and his friends a pardon, and I don't think he, they - or the book - deserve it.

Finally, when his friends come to visit him, Harper comments on how meanly they tease each other. Travis says: "It's true. We say the most offensive stuff to each other. Racist. Homophobic. ... mostly we laugh because we don't mean it." Yes, and I wonder just how funny that joking is for the non-whites or the gays. Nice.
Profile Image for Janina.
214 reviews527 followers
June 2, 2012
When I first finished Something Like Normal, I clicked the four star button with fervour and conviction. Yet, upon thinking back now – a little over a month later – I can't deny that the story left little impact on me. And that makes me sad. Trish Doller's debut is exactly my kind of awesome – contemporary YA focusing on grief and guilt – but still, it was not nearly as earth-shattering and meaningful as I had expected it to be. Now, I think that partly, my extremely high expectations are to blame for that. I have learned that it's always best going into a book not expecting anything and letting yourself be surprised – but that's a hard thing to do when an author talks about her main character being inspired by Jonah Griggs beforehand.

At the same time, while my expectations were not met, I have a hard time finding faults with this book and writing an in-depth review stating my reasons for not connecting with it as deeply as I had hoped. I breezed through Travis's story in a few hours, I even teared up a few times – but in the end, his story did not stay with me and that little something special was missing.

Now – as I said before – I am not completely sure what the reasons for this are. Might it be that I have just read to many books on grief in my life? The topic seems to be rather in vogue right now. Contemporary without a dead parent, dead sibling, dead boyfriend or dead best friend is hard to come by and in a way, this may have made me become jaded. I have also stopped judging books by the amount of tears that flowed while reading. I always thought that if a book was able to make me cry, it must be something special indeed, and deserving of a high rating. In a way, I almost felt emotionally pressured into giving it lots of stars. I was always thinking: Come on, this book has made you cry (!), how can you give it any less than four stars? And I know I have no-one else but me to blame for that approach.

With Something Like Normal, I can't deny that there wasn't any deep connection on my part with the story itself and especially Travis, the main character. Yes, I cried for his friend – but I never really got Travis. His voice might be authentic for a male his age, but I could not really forgive him his weaknesses. And at only 224 pages, I had the feeling the book was too short to really give his character and the relationships portrayed the time to evolve in depth. I can safely say that I have forgotten most of the minor characters' names, and I always felt like Travis's issues with his brother and father were handled superficially and - concerning his dad - coloured only in black and white.

A short note on the cover: When I first saw it, I was sad a book about a soldier returning from Afghanistan got such a kissy kissy cover - while the book does focus more on romantic entanglements than I could have guessed from the description, I don't think contemporary readers have to be lured into reading it by displaying only that aspect of the story.

So, in the end, I would just say: I do not not recommend this book, it just didn't resonate with me personally – but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Thanks a lot to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for the review copy.
Profile Image for Maggie.
431 reviews431 followers
June 15, 2012
"In war, there are no unwounded soldiers."
- José Narosky

Something Like Normal is about a 19-year-old Marine who returns home after serving in Afghanistan for a year. Travis Stephenson is physically intact, but after spending a year on active duty and seeing his best friend get killed, his emotional scars manifest in a form of PTSD. Travis doesn't even feel like he's home because home to him is with his fellow Marines, not his parents' house in Florida where he never lived up to his father's expectations. He's also confronted by Harper Gray, a girl whose reputation got trashed after a little white lie Travis told when they were 13 years old got out of hand.

My biggest concern before reading Something Like Normal was whether a young adult book could accurately portray Marines. One of my favorite shows, HBO's Generation Kill based on the book by Evan Wright, set the standard with its raw, unflinching portrayal of Recon Marines stationed in Iraq. In Trish Doller's hands, my initial concern turned out to be moot. To use a Brad "Iceman" Colbert-ism, this book is pretty fucking ninja.

I love it when authors write about subjects they love. When Kirsty Eagar writes about surfing, her passion for it comes across the page and temporarily makes it my passion. Trish Doller loves Marines. Her affection for them is evident in her portrayal of these young soldiers and all the research that clearly went into making sure she did justice to their depiction. Though this story doesn't take place during battle, she gives us some insight into the conditions with her descriptions of the flea bites on the soldiers' legs and the sand that would get into every orifice. However, Doller's affection for Marines doesn't mean she turns them into saints. The passage that sold me on the book happens on page 10, when Travis talks about his motivations for enlisting. He says,
I didn't have a noble purpose in joining the Marines. I didn't do it to protect American freedom and I wasn't inspired to action by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I was in grade school then, and the biggest priority in my life was any bell that signaled it was time to leave school. I enlisted mostly because I wanted to escape my dad, who'd made my life hell since I quit the football team at the end of sophomore season.
This isn't about politics or patriotism -- it's about people. And those are the stories that I care about. I care about Travis and the friends. I laughed at their nicknames for each other, like Solo, Kevlar, and Fido.

In addition to not turning them into saints, I love that she doesn't water down the dialogue by making it PC or PG. Forget soldiers, what 19-year-old male do you know who doesn't swear or say politically incorrect things? Dawson Leery doesn't count. These guys say "fuck" and they call each other "retards." And so do the guys I know. They also fuck around with girls.

This brings me to what doesn't work for me and why I'm giving the book 4 stars instead of 5. Doller's love of Marines doesn't affect her realistic portrayal of Travis, but perhaps it led her to create a perfect, unrealistic girl for him. Harper, though likable, doesn't seem believable. A guy responsible for ruining her reputation for YEARS -- to the point where even parents know about her -- comes back into town and after one token punch to the face, she starts to get over it? Maybe it's because I'm Korean and a Scorpio, but I don't get over shit that quickly, IF EVER. And if I only get ONE hit, it definitely ain't going to the face. I never sensed any real tension, even when Travis's ex-girlfriend comes into the picture. Sure, Harper gets mad but... not really. Maybe she was in love with Travis since middle school thus making it easier for her to forgive and forget, but then, that just makes me want to hit her in the face.

Still, all the other relationships in the book are so well done that my issue with Harper seems minor. Travis's developing relationship with his mother made me cry. The love and desperation the mother of a soldier feels is so palpable. I also really like the depiction of Travis's relationship with his brother, in that there isn't one. Travis's father, the ex-Green Bay Packer, raised his sons to compete against one another, often favoring one over the other. It's no surprise that the sibling relationship is contentious and broken. It also helps you understand why Travis considers his fellow Marines his true brothers.

This book will make you want to hug a Marine -- if Trish Doller hasn't gotten to them all.
It allows you a look into the life of a guy, who happens to be a soldier. Stay frosty, it comes out next week.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

This review appears on Young Adult Anonymous.
Profile Image for Susan's Reviews.
1,074 reviews490 followers
April 28, 2021

What an impressive story, told from the point of view of Travis Stephenson, a marine suffering from PTSD. He joins the marines to escape his father's constant demands and condemnation. Travis has always been a bit of a selfish jerk, but it seemed that marine life suited him - until his best friend Charlie is killed while out on patrol.

While on leave, Travis meets up with Harper Gray, a girl he kissed when he was fourteen - and whose reputation he afterwards inadvertently ruined by spreading false gossip about her (as young idiot boys will do!) Although I am a pacifist, I was so glad when Harper punched Travis in the eye when he came on to her at a bar one night, five years later.

Harper is a super-intelligent woman who won't allow Travis to take advantage of her again. She is supportive of his PTSD, but she keeps him at arms-length despite the hot chemistry they share. I was certainly not impressed that Travis started hooking up with Paige again when he returned, and while he was seeing Harper. I loved her "strike two" baseball reference to the number of chances Travis had already used up with her. That was priceless.

This was a beautifully written story about a directionless nineteen year old man who needed to mend some fences with his family and friends, and lay the ghost of his best friend Charlie, and the survivor's guilt that was torturing his soul. All the stars to Trish Doller for a very fine novel: being a pacifist, I tend to stay away from military themed stories, but the writing was so good, the characters were so real, and Travis and Harper where such appealing characters that I am glad I gave Something Like Normal a chance. Although there were plenty of references to all kinds of shenanigans going on between various characters in this story, there was nothing overly explicit in this novel. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Jo.
268 reviews946 followers
May 12, 2020
I feel like saying anything negative about this book is the equivalent of kicking a puppy. Well, I guess I’m going to be the puppy-kicker of the blogging world*.
Wait, let me clarify. It’s not as if I didn’t like this book, because I did but I just wanted to like it a lot more.

Do you want to good news or the bad news?
I don’t see why anyone would ever say good news first because you’re all happy and joyful and then BAM, bad news. And then you’re sad.
And no one wants to be sad.

So the bad news- I don’t get why this book had to be a love story.

I like a kissing book as much as the next person, but I didn’t want this book to be a kissing book. And the more I think about it, the more I think that it actually was. But one of the better ones, you know? I liked the relationship between Harper and Travis and if this was any other YA book I would have been smitten because both characters were realistic and I could actually see why they were attracted to each other. Unfortunately, I felt it was a bit rushed and, in context with the rest of the story, it did seem to be kind of forced. Like I said, in any other book, I would have praised the love interest because, as a regular YA reader, I have often been acquainted with the most ridiculous love stories… but I wanted more from this. Everything else was spot on and, I’ll talk about this more later when I’m praising and gushing and high-fiving but I honestly I think that Travis was such a rich character that he could have held this book on his own.
I think my main problem was that I didn’t really connect with Harper. I mean she was OK but I felt like I hardly knew her. In comparison to Travis, his mum and his Marines she very much faded into the back ground.

I just can’t help but think that this book would have been infinitely better if it had dealt solely with Travis’ relationship with his fellow Marines, his parents and his brother, the latter being something that I desperately wanted. I mean, talk about conflicting and angsty and difficult emotions! I just felt a lot of the relationships, ones that would really have allowed Ms Doller to write some really intense and difficult emotions (and it’s obvious this is one of her major talents) were over looked for a pretty girl in a band t-shirt.

Alright, anyway… now the good news.

I absolutely adored the relationship between Travis and his fellow Marines. I loved their banter and how vile they were with each other. They’re not always brave. They fight over who gets the lad’s mags first but they are so completely connected mentally, it was wonderful. I think if you’re going to write a book about a subject that’s so current and close to a lot of people’s hearts across the whole world, you really need to know what you’re talking about. I loved how it wasn’t glamorised and things were portrayed how they are. This book is impeccably researched and I wasn’t surprised at all to see that about 80% of the acknowledgments are to Marines.
However, my favourite part of this book (and the part that made me have to put it down because I didn’t want to weep in public) was the relationship between Travis and his mum. I loved the way Travis looked after his mum but also wanted to be looked after to. He was big tough guy Marine with issues but his mum was his first port of call. Isn’t that glorious? I just loved it. It felt honest and refreshing to have a mother-son relationship that…well, actually existed, you know? It wasn’t the neatest relationship in the world, lots of messy emotions, but I think (with maybe the exception of one that I’m not going to talk about because of spoilers and my sadness) it was my favourite.
I always seem to chat on about how much I want parents to get a look in in YA books and I got two for the price of one in this one. Charlie’s mums were just as brilliant- full of humour, life and heaps of sadness. I had to put my Kindle down a few times to stop me embarrassing myself on the train.

I have to admit that this book was a little disappointing, but even so it’s a really great debut and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to see what else Ms Doller writes. Even though it didn't affect me as much as I wanted it to, I'd still wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone looking for an intelligent and compelling contemporary.

*No puppies were kicked in the writing of this review. I promise.
Profile Image for NiCoLeTa E. {Addicted To Books}.
1,347 reviews85 followers
September 12, 2016
Whoa! That was very good!!! I wasn't expect it!!!!
This story was quite... emotional!!!

I think this is a book about courage, bravery, honor, friendship and love...

Travis returns home after several months in Afganistan for thirty days, but everything had change around him and inside him...
First of all, he is suffering from the loss of his best friend, Charlie and the guilt inside him is boiling... He can't sleep at night because the nightmares are always there in the corner of his mind waiting for him...
And sometimes, he is seeing things that doesn't suppose to see, like Charlie in flesh and bones...

Well, as i was saying before, he is returning home after almost a year, but the things is not as was before he left... His relationship with his father is on the edge and that's because he never understands why Travis left soccer and joined the Marines... But Travis did it because of him... He wanted to be who he wanted to be and he couldn't accept it anymore to live in his father's shadow or to follow his dreams...
Beyond that fact, his parents had serious problems between them and his brother had taken everything was ever his... His car, his friends and his... girlfriend!!!

You probably wonder...What the fuck??? Yeah, i know!!!
So, nothing feels normal to him anymore... and his mind is in a very bad shape... until Harper steps into his life and everything changed...

Harper is a little bit aggressive toward Travis and that's why back in school, he didn't treat her good and with respect...

She's trying to keep him away from her but fate has other plans about them...
As the days passed, they started to bond together and something changes inside him...
In every possible way...
Harper gives him strength, love and hope for a better future... She has the power to send away the ghosts and with her by his side he wants to be a better man...

Finally, i want to tell you that i liked very much the tender connection between Travis and his mother...

I hated with every cell of my body his father... He was a fuckin' asshole!!! And i didn't like that he accused Travis for his wedding problems...

I think that his brother was a selfish, little prick!!! How can i call a guy that treated like that his own brother??? So... i didn't like what Travis did, but you deserve this, Ryan!!!

And finally... Paige!!! She was a slut!!! With all the meaning of this word!!!!

Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 7 books1,211 followers
June 19, 2012
This book got so many things right, I don't even know where to start. Maybe with Travis, who is one of the most realistic male voices I've read in a long time. More than simply having a great voice though is the fact he's authentic. He's not perfect and he makes mistakes. This isn't a book where the Marine is an automatic hero just because he's a Marine. Yeah, that experience makes Travis tough but it also makes him more vulnerable, too.

The family dynamics with Travis and his father, as well as with his brother and mother, are done so well. It was a painful but honest look at what happens when a family crumbles.

And the romance just worked. I loved every second of what happened between Travis and Harper because it revealed so much about who he was and who she was and why they deserved one another. It's an imperfect relationship, but it's also healthy because of that.

I cried three times reading this. First,

Travis reminded me so much of one of my best friends, too. Could picture Travis and him hanging out and shooting the shit together.

Without doubt this book will appeal to male and female readers. It reminded me a LOT of CK Kelly Martin's "I Know It's Over" in terms of writing, the spot-on male voice, and the way a flawed male can work through his flaws to ultimately understand who he is and even forgive himself for it.

Full review here: http://www.stackedbooks.org/2012/06/s.... I can't believe I read this in one sitting.

Profile Image for Miranda Kenneally.
Author 18 books4,190 followers
November 26, 2011
I loved this book. I had a hard time putting it down. I was walking down the street reading it, in fact, and I wasn't paying any attention to where I was going. I nearly walked into a light pole. This lady from work saw me and yelled, "Miranda - stop reading that young adult literature!"

After I finished it, I left the book on my Kindle, and one day I found my husband reading SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL. He had just picked it up out of the blue and started reading and he couldn't put it down either. He's a very picky reader so I was excited that he was into the book.

Anyhow, the reason I'm saying all this is to explain that Travis is a very engaging narrator. He is just REAL. The problems he faces are real. He acts like a real guy - he makes mistakes, he has flaws, he wants to live a better life. He wants to feel better and wants to help the people around him.

This is a really important book for anyone considering a career in the military. I truly respect the people who fight for our country, and with this book, Doller puts a face on the people willing to risk everything for freedom and democracy and a better life.

Doller shows how important life is by giving us a deep look at Travis' world. The author greatly honors the military with this book.

Also, I am a big fan of the love story! It is super spicy and engaging. Can I have a Travis please?

This book is a very important read for both teens and adults. You shouldn’t miss it!
Profile Image for Nyrae Dawn.
Author 27 books3,938 followers
November 16, 2012
You all know I'm a huge contemporary fan. That male POV is my absolute favorite so I had a feeling I would love it, but I'm also very picky on my male POV books....

That being said... I LOVED THIS BOOK. Trish Doller nailed the male voice. I felt Travis's pain. My heart broke for him and what he was going through. I loved Harper. Loved his mom. Loved his relationship with his Marine brothers. I loved everything about it.

Absolutely one of my favorite reads of the year.
Profile Image for Chachic.
586 reviews204 followers
August 8, 2014
Originally posted here.

Trish Doller's debut novel, Something Like Normal, is one of my most anticipated releases this year. I read the excerpt and immediately wanted to read the book, I probably would have if it was already available at that time. I've also chatted with Trish on Twitter and I keep liking and reblogging her Tumblr posts. I was really excited when I finally got my hands on a copy of her book and I read it as soon as I could.

I love reading older YA or new adult novels and I believe Something Like Normal falls under these categories. Sure, Travis is just 19 but I think being a Marine makes him a more mature character. He's seen and experienced the atrocities of war and is suffering from the loss of his best friend, Charlie. Now I've never been a teenage boy so I don't exactly know how they think. But I do have guy friends and I feel like Travis has a realistic voice for a guy. He's far from being perfect and he makes stupid mistakes throughout the course of the novel but I believe he's a decent guy who genuinely wants to get his act together. It's just that he's messed up from everything that he's been through - failing his father's unreasonable expectations, signing up to be in the military to escape and heading off straight to serve in an unfamiliar country. Also, I know next to nothing about Marines but I found Travis' experiences intriguing.

Trish Doller's debut is something that I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone, even those who don't usually read contemporary YA because I feel like it has crossover appeal for many readers. It's refreshing in the sense that it doesn't focus on a high school setting, isn't just about the romance and is the first novel that I've read with a teen main character in the military. Something Like Normal is very easy to fall into. It's the kind of novel that you read within one day because you can't get enough of Travis and his complicated relationships - his issues with his dad and his brother, how he tries to be a better son to his overly supportive mother, how he interacts with his Marine buddies and how he gets to know the girl he's always had a crush on. While I don't think the romance is the main focus of the novel, there was plenty of swoon that kept me more than satisfied. I like that Travis and Harper have a history that dates back to middle school. Harper is just the person Travis needs in his life - she's smart, fun to be with and knows exactly how to handle him. Here's a spoiler-free snippet from early on:

“Do you need help?” a female voice from behind asks.

I’m about to throw an offended no over my shoulder when Harper comes up alongside me, all green eyes and tousled hair. I could probably look at her forever and not get tired of that face. “If I say yes will you think less of me?”

She shrugs, but I can see a smile at the corner of her mouth. “I already do think less of you.”

Doesn't that make you curious? Like I said, I love Trish's Tumblr so I thought it would be fitting to include some of the images that she's posted in this review. These images actually remind of Travis and Harper. :)

Something Like Normal will be released June 19, 2012 and I know this review is ridiculously early but I couldn't help but spread the word about this novel. I have a feeling a lot of readers will fall in love with Travis' story. Can't wait to see what Trish writes next.
Profile Image for Christy.
3,808 reviews32.3k followers
February 21, 2013
 photo 4ce07f18-1081-43e5-85f4-6136ed0b5c05_zps1a68ba3c.jpg

Travis is a marine back home for a month after being in Afghanistan. He is distant from his parents, his brother started dating his ex-girlfriend Paige, who ‘dear john’ lettered him, and he is still trying to cope with his best friend Charlie’s death. He’s got a lot going on. After being in town a few nights, he runs into her.

Her green eyes meet mine in the Guinness mirror behind the bar and it feels like all the air has been sucked out of the room. I’ve never slept with this girl, but she was the first I remember wanting. Harper Gray.

He doesn’t receive a very warm welcome from Harper, which is understandable considering their past. After a few run ins, she starts to realize Travis is not the same man that went off to war. They start to develop a relationship.

“Here’s the thing: the strings are already attached.”

Travis is dealing with a lot. Not only does he have family issues, but he is not handling the death of Charlie well, and has a case of PTSD. Travis makes some bad choices in this book, he is a flawed character for sure, but he is very likable. He redeems himself by the end. Harper was fantastic. Even with all that Travis put her through in her past, she notices his changes and gives him a chance. She is there for him when no one else is. The relationship with his mom was nice to see after he realizes how much she cares, and his dad and brother... just ugh. After Travis starts to cope with things, and realizes he has people in his corner, things get better for him.

“I don’t know if my life will ever be completely normal again, but something like normal is a good start.”

Beautiful story, wonderful writing. Made me smile, made me cry, overall I really enjoyed it. Wish it was a little longer, and we had an epilogue (besides the letter) If it had those things, it would have most likely been a 5 star read for me, that being said- I rate it 3.5-4 stars :D
Profile Image for Mo.
1,351 reviews2 followers
December 4, 2013
3.5 stars

Liked this one…..

Reviews are sort of short at the moment as I have been out of the loop and catching up. Will be back to normalcy on Wednesday, hopefully!

I suddenly realise you need so much time to review books....

Profile Image for ~Tina~.
1,092 reviews159 followers
July 9, 2012
"But what has been done can't be undone. My best friend is dead and I'm never going to be the same Travis Stephenson."

On a month-leave from the Marines, Travis Stephenson is finally home after a year in Afghanistan, only he doesn't really feel like it's his home anymore. He enlisted fresh out of high school to escape his father, whom Travis will never be good enough in his eyes and a year away still hasn't made their relationship magically perfect, in fact, it's probably worse. His (ex)-girlfriend, Paige hooked-up with Travis's brother, Ryan but he just can't bring himself to care. About anything.
Travis feels guily that he made it out alive while his best friend, Charlie, didn't make it. Haunted by his memory. Charlie is everywhere. His only saving grace is a girl named Harper, who he made life miserable for in middle school, but together they find themselves sliding into an easy friendship, an easy connection and find comfort in each others arms. And maybe when it's all said and done, find their own version of something like normal.

Once in awhile a book will come along and make me think and feel and ache for these characters in a way where I just want to hug them and wish away their pain.
Something like Normal is one of those stories.

Travis is the kind of character that made a lasting impression the minute I met him. He's cold, cynical and almost bitter about being back home. But I loved the way he cared about his mother and how he stood-up to his father.
As the story goes on we see him battling nightmares and hallucination and even terrifying triggered-memories of his time in Afghanistan. This is a guy who is riddled with pure guilt that's tearing him upside down and sideways. And it broke my heart.
So I can't seem to blame him when ever he made a wrong decision, especially when it comes to Paige. A moment presented itself and he took it. It's not an excuse, even he knows that, but yet I can't find it in me to hold it against him. Maybe it's because it fits his personality so perfectly, maybe cause he didn't care about anything at that point in time, or at least till he started to care about Harper and she started to care back.
I absolutely loved Travis and Harper. This was the kind of relationship that was sweet and bubbling and real. Something they both needed. Those were the moments that I looked forward to. But this story isn't about romance, not really. It's more about grief and guilt and lost and coping. It's about coming back from something so big and so crazy that no one could understand till you live it. It's about coming back from the other side and not being able to be who you were going in. It's about losing your best friend and not being able to do anything about it and trying to figure out how to live without him by your side.

Trish Doller's writing is simply remarkable. She doesn't hold back as she describes the good, the bad and the ugliness when it comes to war, and what a solider who's suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) has to endure. This is powerful stuff, honest and emotionally raw as well as eye opening and thought provoking.
I was unbelievably touched by so much in this book and was proud of the Travis we got to see in the end compared to him in the beginning.

Bottom line, I absolutely fell in love with this book. It's beautiful and sad, humorous and sweet and the ending was perfect and realistic. It doesn't end in the traditional cookie-cutter way, but with uncertainty, hope and endless possibilities that life after lost can truly move on.

An instant favorite! Fantastic debut! I can't wait to see what Trish Doller comes up with next!

This review and more can be seen at;
winter haven books
Profile Image for Sarah.
820 reviews150 followers
May 21, 2012
{This review originally appeared on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves.}
But what has been done can’t be undone. My best friend is dead and I’m never going to be the same Travis Stephenson.

Trish Doller's remarkable debut, Something Like Normal, is one of those rare books that I recommend to nearly everyone. It's an important, timely novel--one that's lingered with me in the months since I read it.

Well before SLN was published (it's out on June 19), I found myself on seemingly every social media site insisting the everyone--absolutely everyone--read this novel about 19 year-old Marine Travis Stephenson, who's home on leave in Florida following a tour-of-duty in Afghanistan where his best friend, Charlie, dies before his eyes. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (a fact kept hidden from the Marines, as that would torpedo his military career), Travis finds himself feeling like and outsider in his own home and hometown.
As we head toward the beach I notice the differences in the landscape of the city. New businesses that weren’t there last year. Old businesses that are gone. It’s like a whole chunk of time has just … disappeared. The songs on the radio are different. The faces on the celebrity tabloids at the airport newsstand were people I didn’t recognize. There’s even a new American fucking Idol.

The Romance
Early in SLN, Travis reconnects with a girl from his past, Harper, but Something Like Normal isn't another story of "girl saves troubled boy." This is a story of Travis saving himself and allowing people in his life to care about him, to help him. It's a story of Travis finding his path, and finding his own version of normal in the wake of a devastating loss. And it's ultimately a story of forgiveness and redemption.

Travis' and Harper's relationship is the backdrop for much of the story (though I have to reiterate that SLN is not about The Romance). It's beautifully crafted and feels very real.
Our eyes meet for a moment and I look for something. Anything. But then her gaze falls to her flip-flops with a shyness that kills me in the best possible way.

Also, Harper takes Travis turtle watching, which is just about the most romantic thing in life. (Seriously.)

The romance develops between the two in a believable, realistic way. Something Like Normal is categorized as young adult, but it most definitely doesn't contain any of the weird, unrealistic YA relationship development that's become so common (i.e., platonic sleeping WTFery, shivery kisses that never progress, artificial conflicts over ridiculous Big Misunderstandings). Harper and Travis' relationship grows and hits bumps in a heady, difficult way that actually makes sense for the place the two--both as individuals and as a couple--are at in life. In a word, it's refreshing.

The Comraderie
One of the most striking elements in Something Like Normal is the tight friendships between Travis and his friends in the Marines--so much so that he's almost at a loss when that type of closeness doesn't exist within his own family.

Even so, shouldn’t it feel good to be with them again? Why do I feel closer to a group of guys I’ve known less than a year than I do my own family?

Their tight-knittedness is remarkable in that they're all so different, but they're (to state the obvious) bound together by the shared experience of their deployment, all isolated in a way from their previous "normal." For me, this was where much of the magic of Something Like Normal lies--in the familiar banter, the almost-mean teasing, the pranks, the bets,
"Solo, man, that was so not fair," Kevlar protests.

I snap the bill between my fingers. "I'd say it almost makes us even."

Moss laughs and fist-bumps me, and I feel the most normal I've felt since the day we got back from Afghanistan--except when I'm alone with Harper. These are my brothers. This is my family.

The Realism
There were moments in which Something Like Normal make me a bit uncomfortable, quite frankly. Travis is a 19 year-old Marine and being in his headspace was a challenge at times. This isn't a criticism, it's actually a compliment. There's a moment early on in with Travis is thinking about his experiences in Afghanistan (Laura pointed this out to me and I ended up going back and re-reading that section) and Travis' narrow view on the country and people of Afghanistan is pretty jarring. But, at the same time, it felt real. If Travis had been super-enlightened and had incredibly nuanced thoughts on the subject, it would have read strangely.

The raw realism of Travis' thoughts are tough to read and the same goes for the language in the dialog between the Marines--both were often way out of my comfort zone.

But, I wouldn't want it Something Like Normal written any other way.
It's true. We say the most offensive stuff to each other.

Racist. Homophobic. Insulting each other's mom. Sometimes, every once in awhile, it leads to knock-down-roll-around-on-the-ground fistfights, but mostly we laugh because we don't mean it. Any one of us would take a bullet for the other.

One of my favorite aspects of the raw realism is SLN is the way in which Travis' PTSD is integrated into the story. I know that sounds strange, but it's important, because at no point does SLN devolve into an "issue book," yet at the Travis' PTSD is always there, bubbling under the surface, threatening his tenuous grasp on "normal." For example, while Travis is turtle-watching with Harper [swoon], his brain flips bank to Afghanistan, unable to stop himself from worrying about bombs hidden on the Florida beach,
Harper moves past me and I fight the urge to grab her arm and stop her, momentarily forgetting there are no bombs buried here. In Afghanistan, they could be anywhere. One time we were sweeping a road because we knew there was a bomb on it, but even with a metal detector we couldn't find it. We gave up, got in the truck, drove a little farther down the road, and hit the bomb we'd been looking for. None of us were hurt--just a little tossed around--but it messed up the truck. Even after my brain gets the memo that we are not going to blow up on Bonita Beach, I can't stop my eyes from scanning the sand for explosives.

"Is this a problem?" she asks.

For a moment I have to remember what we were talking about, but then I look up at her, the sea breeze lifting the stray hair around her face. "Nope, not a problem at all."

Even in this quiet moment, his experiences in the war creep into his psyche. Later, during that same night on the beach with Harper, Travis experiences an even more intense flashback when he hears a stick crack. It's these moments that made real for me what it must be like to be back home, back to normal, for men and women who've experienced war.

[Note: I deleted and added the following part of my review multiple times, because I always feel skeevy talking about myself in a book review. But, I believe that our reactions to what we read are deeply rooted in our own experiences, and I don't mine sharing my own, so in it stays.]

Something Like Normal thrust me back to my own experience, in which for years following 9/11 (I was living in Washington, DC during the terrorist attacks), when I'd hear low-flying airplanes (and even worse, military aircraft like what buzzed over the city for days after 9/11), my hands would start shaking and I'd panic. I'd then have to consciously work to force that panic out of my head, with varying degrees of success. It was the most awful feeling (and, honestly, sometimes still--because I live near an airport--it sneaks up on me when I hear low-flying aircraft).

Even with my relatively mild experience with post-traumatic stress, I feel confident in saying that Doller captured that "flipped switch" feeling masterfully in Something Like Normal. And, frankly, my own experience with panic is nothing--nothing--like what it must be like for people who've experienced war, seen friends--the people they're trying to protect--violently killed and been required to do things they'd never fathomed they'd have to do.

That's why I think that Something Like Normal is so special.

It brings home to anyone who takes the time to read it, and experience Travis' "new normal," something we'll never experience and does so in a relatable, compelling way. Travis isn't some remarkable guy (as much as I liked him)--instead, he's a guy we all know. He's someone who's easy to identify with, even if his experiences are far removed from our own. Travis joins the Marines because he doesn't really know what to do with his life and he discovers that it's a job that works for him--even though it's a really, really hard job.

I can think of many, many Travises I grew up with. Some joined the military, some went to community college, some got jobs. Travis could be my neighbor or yours. And yet, where I live (Portland, Oregon, which is very different from the small-town Oregon I'm from), guys like Travis who choose the military as their path are often dismissed, stereotyped and derided with sanctimonious bumper stickers.*

I'd love to put Something Like Normal in the hands of the adults in communities such as the one in which I live so they could understand that the guys (and girls) they lump together as "The Military" are people just like their friends and neighbors. I know this sounds dramatic and overwrought, but SLN really hit me with the uncomfortable feeling that in places like Portland it is common to dehumanize the real Travises with our language, attitude and assumptions.

[Stepping off my high horse now and returning to our regularly-scheduled programming.]

The other element that struck me in Something Like Normal is the sensitive transformation of Travis and his mother's relationship.

There's not a lot I can say about what transpires, because to do so would be tremendously spoilerific, but they begin to see one another as individuals, not just in the parent-kid context. Despite my voracious reading of contemporary YA, I don't see this a whole lot and I'd love to see more YA authors explore this theme.
I don’t know what to say to this. My mom is seeing a therapist? I run my hand over my head. “Hey, um, Mom, I’ve gotta go because we’re having breakfast with Charlie’s mom, but I wanted to tell you—” I don’t remember the last time I said the words. “I, um—” The line is silent for a moment as my mom waits for the words, but then she finishes it for me. “I love you, too, Travis.”

If I had to point to one thing that bothered me about SLN, it's that I didn't need the epilogue-like final chapter. By the penultimate chapter, I'd decided for myself what I though was going to happen in Travis' life, and what direction he was headed. It was nice to see that my assumptions were indeed correct, but my time with Travis could have just as easily ended without revisiting Travis. However, it also brings closure to the Travis-Charlie plot, so it serves an important purpose. So, my feelings remain mixed on that final piece of Travis' story. Regardless, that minor point in no way diminishes my enthusiastic declaration that Trish Doller's Something Like Normal is a "must-read" of 2012.

FNL Character Rating: Vince Howard. Vince's relationship with his team reminded me so much of Travis' relationship with his Marine buddies; Travis' redemptive storyline is very much akin to Vince's; and Travis' relationship with tough and smart Harper reminded me very much of Vince's challenging, and ultimately transformative, relationship with Jess. The easier choice would have been Luke Cafferty (given that Luke eventually opts for a military career), and Travis does share some of Luke's "Every Guy" qualities, but in terms of character arc, Travis and Vince are kindred spirits.

Something Like Normal releases on June 19, 2012 and is available for preorder now--and I highly recommend you do so.

*For real, y'all... the bumper stickers in this town. You have no idea.

A word (well, a lot of words) on the cover design.

I really believe that Bloomsbury did a massive disservice to to this marvelous book by going in the direction it did with this cover. By choosing the typical YA almost-make out cover, it limits SLN's audience. Teen boys would probably love the hell out of this book, but it looks like a teen romance--and you'd not guess in a bookstore that the narrator is a 19 year-old Marine. It also conveys the impression that the romance is a huge part of the story, and while it's very important, it isn't the story. This is Travis' story of loss and redemption.

Why not create a cover akin to the new U.S. edition of The Piper's Son?

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This cover (while not as awesome as the Australian version) has universal appeal, not limiting its audience like the SLN cover does. It's on-trend in terms of YA, but it also conveys that there's a male narrator and wouldn't be a turn-off to adult readers either.

SLN's cover really, really bothers me, y'all. Like, probably more than it should a rational person--but I think that points to how much I care about this book. Please don't let SLN's completely wrong cover keep you from reading this book. It's one of my favorites in a long, long time.

Disclosure: I received a copy of SLN from the publisher via NetGalley. Additionally, the author is a friend of a friend (which I was unaware of at the time I read this book). Neither of these facts impacted my my honest review of this book.
Profile Image for Heather.
138 reviews
January 23, 2013
I will admit that I did not finish this book. Not because it wasn't really good - the 25% of it that I read was - but because it was so hard to read in a mental and emotional sense. I don't know how she did it, but Trish Doller really nailed what it means to come home after a tour in Afghanistan. The detachment. The anger. The way your brain interprets sounds, once normal, as a threat. The frustration. The sense of being an alien in your own skin. Though I couldn't finish this book because it just hit too many triggers for me, I still give it a high rating because of the author's uncanny grasp on what this less-than-1% of the population goes through in our attempts to return to "normal" life.
589 reviews1,031 followers
December 27, 2013
See more reviews at YA Midnight Reads

Thank you Bloomsbury Australia for sending me this copy. No compensation was given or taken to alter this review.
“Maybe it’s time to find a new normal.”

After reading Where The Stars Still Shine and hating it with all my might, I still ended up wanting to read Something Like Normal as it sounded like nothing I've read before. I am glad I gave Trish Doller's works another try because her debut in my opinion; was a huge success.

Ever since Travis Stephenson joined the Marines, his life has been everything but normal. Suffocated with grief, guilt and confusion when he finally comes home for 30 days from Afghanistan, Travis is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While he may not have been permanently physically damaged, but he's mentally damaged forever. Nightmares haunt him at night; flashbacks linger in the corner of his eye in the day. His arrival at home doesn't help; it only causes more turbulence for everyone. His brother, Ryan stole his girlfriend (Paige) and his car, his father has been cheating on his mum and he soon finds out his mum hasn't rested well at all since he left in the biting worry that Travis wouldn't come home alive. Awkward and falling apart, Travis doesn't know if he can cope with it any longer.

Travis was an easy character to empathise and connect with. He's a teen soldier from Afghanistan who finally comes home to find something like normal. But nothing is, he even sleeps on the ground instead of his comfy bed. I felt his sorrow and pain that followed him like a shadow and I was curious about what he had gone through during his stay in Afghanistan. Trish Doller does her research well and creates a believable male lead struggling from the loss of his war friend and abrupt change from the life he knew before he left. But his life before he left wasn't too good anyway. His father used to force him to play football, critique his every move, and when Travis got the chance, he quit. But his father was more than furious and soon, Travis decided to join the Marines, because of his overbearing father. Travis also had a girlfriend, Paige and they'd never had anything more than sex. So when he finds out Paige moved onto his brother, no tough feelings.

The romance in this book, unlike Where The Stars Still Shine, was well developed and sweet. Harper and Travis got off on a bad foot in middle grade when Harper starts getting called a slut because of Travis. But when Travis comes back, a completely changed young man, he starts learning from his mistakes and falls for Harper. I love Harper. Her character was strong and loving. She was a pretty average, or ‘normal’ character, which is exactly perfect for Travis.

The only complaint I have with this book is the length. It felt too short (only 240 pages!) and there was a lot that Trish Doller wanted to include. I felt that Harper forgave Travis too easily but I liked how Harper was a drama and cliché girl.

Something Like Normal was an unflinching and surprisingly emotional read about a teen soldier back in town and adjusting to his not so easy life. Unlike the cover suggests this is not just a romance book.
Profile Image for Ash Wednesday.
441 reviews524 followers
September 12, 2013

I do have to admit, I'm a sucker for a lot of the things this book had to offer, and I'm quite happy to finish this earlier than I'd have wanted with very few complaints. Although to be fair, Trish Doller could've padded this with 50 more pages of testosterone banter between Solo, Kevlar, CJ and yes, even Harper, I would STILL be complaining it's too short.
“Go away.” She gives me a shove. “I have a shark to catch.”
Kevlar cracks up. “Ooh, Solo. Denied.”
“Hey, Kenneth, aren’t you going to introduce me to your date?” I reach into the live well and pull out a pilchard for my own hook. “Oh, wait. You don’t have one.”

One of my favorite short stories is Kurt Vonnegut's Long Walk to Forever, a story about an army soldier who went AWOL to win the affections the girl he's been in love with since they were kids and I expected this to be a somewhat expanded version of that. Well it wasn't, but I'm glad to be equally charmed by Travis and Harper as I was by Newt and Catharine.

Okay, still with me?

Something Like Normal is told from the perspective of Travis Stephenson who in escaping from the trappings and pressure of his normal, suburban American life found asylum and a different sense of family in the Afghanistan desert as a Marine. Granted a short leave from his service, he returns home haunted by his dead best friend and by the issues that have plagued his old life even before he left: parents he's detached from, a covetous younger brother, a past relationship that refuses to go away and the girl he'd done wrong in the past.

After having recently read two books dealing with heavy issues, a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder book doesn't seem like the best choice for me, but this was surprisingly light. This could've been taken to drama overdrive and exploited to subtly air out some political sentiments but I felt the story was very honest and respectful of the subject matter. And I truly appreciated the obvious research done here to vividly portray the little details in the lives of soldiers when they're in-country. For me, it gave better emotional weight to Travis' recollections.

There's this one scene where CJ talks of real life not being big enough for Kevlar which, I guess, is true for all of them. Except that Travis is trying to adjust and find his footing again in all that mundane. I liked that. Often times (The Hurt Locker comes to mind) this is painted with the depressing hues of despair and irretrievable loss. I appreciate that I get a sense of hope for Travis' character without coming off too melodramatic or fantastical.

I'm a big fan of Travis' perspective and the testosterone humor is a very welcome balance to some of the heavy scenes while still managing to make him likable and charming. His thoughts and dialogue were believable and the way he reacted to every situation, be it his ex-girlfriend coming on to him or having a beer with his mother, was realistic.
I turn to leave and Paige is standing there, her mouth all smug. I hate how she does that.
“Rye’s looking for you,” she says. “He’s ready to go.”
“Okay.” My eyes wander down to her ass as I follow her out of the bar. Force of habit, I guess. Also, it’s nice. Kind of bubbly.

I should easily label him a dick, especially with what he did to Harper in the past. But his swoony lines and often not-so-smooth moves in winning her affections without coming off slick, redeemed him halfway. The rest of my heart was won by his moments with his mother. Okay maybe being the badass, honorable Marine isn't that bad, but I'm very glad that wasn't the end-all be-all of his character.

Harper was effortlessly likable, though I may have rolled my eyes over but I liked that she wasn't a pollyanna but she isn't an over the top, yay feminism kind of heroine either. I was a bit disappointed with the Paige subplot because given the setting, it is one of the easiest, most overused sidestreet in New Adult Contemporary. I also did feel awkward in some of the scenes but more out of being ill-paced than the actual content, which might have improved had this book been a little longer.

But then again, that might just be me wanting to see Kevlar get burned over and over.
“Lots of fine, fine ladies here tonight, Kenneth,” I say. “Which one’s it going to be?”
“If I wanted a cougar, I’d do your mom.”
“Why? Getting tired of your own?”

Profile Image for Kim  *Mo Chridhe*.
183 reviews40 followers
September 9, 2013
"She has big boobs and -"

"There is no comparison," I interrupt. "Everything about you is better."

"You didn't think so in middle school."

"I was fourteen," I say. "I was thinking with the wrong head back then. As opposed to, you know, now. When I only think with the wrong head sometimes."

Ladies and gents, meet Travis Stephenson, my latest favourite YA/NA male narrator. He is my male Francesca Spinelli, that character who isn't really all that special but managed to pinch my heart in the most effortless kind of way anyway.

Travis is on a 4-week leave after being deployed in Afghanistan over a year ago. After his best friend, Charlie, was killed while they were on duty together, Travis has been plagued with guilt, nightmares, and hallucinations of him. His homecoming isn't promising to be a reprieve from his physical and internal wars either, seeing that he still doesn't get along with his overbearing father and his younger brother has basically taken over his car, his girlfriend and his friends. Currently, there is only one person who Travis wants to spend time with, but Harper Gray doesn't want anything to do with him after he started false rumors about her back in middle school.
"You might not remember me, but -"

"Travis Stephenson," she interrupts, her words like a roadblock. "Welcome home. Now leave me alone."

Damn, she's hostile.

Still, he persists, and the two form a friendship unlike anything he had prior to leaving for Afghanistan. The romance is cute and realistic - devoid of weighty promises of undying love and commitment. There were so many scenes between them that had me grinning, and this was mostly due to the unbelievably teenage-maleness of Travis's voice and how realistically his character was portrayed. Some might frown at one "mistake" in particular, but I think it was true to the portrayal of a confused mind that had just gone through something traumatic. I'm not excusing the act in question, but I certainly understand how it could've happened under his circumstances and history.

There wasn't a particularly strong message about the war and its cause in the book, and I don't think the author was aiming for that anyway, so I didn't mind the "lightness" of it in the book. I thought the delivery of PTSD and how it affected Travis and those around him was pretty effective. The distance between Travis and his family and old friends was highlighted because he now has this group of people whom he has a shared experience with. I loved the banter between him and the members of his platoon, how they joke and insult each other but still regarding each other like close friends or brothers.

I think I easily identified with Travis because his flaws were so honestly depicted. There's no traumatic childhood event that shaped his douchebaggery ways. Girls and booze seem like a normal constant in a nineteen year old. He might be someone you know or you might see a bit of yourself in him. I mean, how many of us have made a decision not because it was something we really wanted but because staying put wasn't an option?

I can't really pinpoint why I loved this book as much as I did. I just knew that after I finished it I wanted to reread it again right away. It was especially refreshing to read a contemporary romance through a male's POV. His post-traumatic stress was believable and understandable. In the romance department, some parts borderlined on the chessy, but instead of rolling my eyes I found myself smiling a lot. Travis is such an endearing and lovable hero. You just can't help but cheer him on, you know? I loved how his character grew and how he found supportive people to get him through the tough times. There was a perfect amount of humor, romance, family and relationship drama, internal struggles and tears. It might not have any life-altering effect on me. It might not have taught me anything new or insightful. It didn't even make me cry buckets - my usual criteria for highly rating something. But it just worked on so many levels. I finished three books and six novellas in the course of my weeklong staycation and while I liked them all, this was the one that compelled me enough to lift my reviewing ban. I highly recommend this to readers of character-driven contemporaries who'd want a rollercoaster of emotions type of reading experience.
"It fucking sucks. I just want to be normal again."

"Maybe, it's time to find a new normal."
Profile Image for Brigid.
Author 35 books14.7k followers
July 11, 2012
I picked this up while at Hooray for Books, and the voice grabbed me right away. It's a quick read, and as you'd expect, I'm really enjoying the male POV and the family relationships so far. Reminds me a lot of The Things a Brother Knows. Yay for a fellow Apocalypsie!!

ETA: I gave this book to a coworker and she read the whole thing that night. See? GOOD.
Profile Image for Laura.
1,374 reviews206 followers
May 12, 2017

"I don’t know if my life will ever be completely normal again, but something like normal is a good start.”

Something Like Normal has been sitting on the corner of my desk for years. Toppling piles of books suround me at all times is my life, but man—do I kick myself when I realize a gem like THIS has been in my sights for years. Travis Stephenson has been staring at me, in reach, right there! For years! GAH!

Travis, a 19 year old active Marine, is home for 30 days on leave, but all he wants to do is go back to his unit. The Marines feel more like home than his family. At home while he was gone, his brother took his car and his girl! Plus his parents are on the verge of splitting up. But Travis is wrapped around the pain of losing his fellow Marine and best friend—Charlie. His head and heart are lost right now. Travis is having nightmares and hallucinations of Charlie everywhere. Noises and smells can pull him into a memory so fast and deep it’s scary. One minute he’s in Florida on the beach and the next he’s in the dirt of Afghanistan. Ms. Doller depicts the effects of war and death on a soldier in a gritty, raw, no BS style. I loved the NO angst level here. This is an honest, no sugar coating portrayal of PTSD. A powerful picture of a lost young man trying to find his way home from war and guilt and pain. A guy trying to find his own way in this world while trying to deal with the weight and trauma of losing his best friend right in front of him. There’s a lot to deal with in this little book, but Trish Doller does it in her own kickass way.

I loved Travis. His voice is loud and clear. And we only hear from Travis. I love that! The one point of view all the way through only ups the realism, frustration, and confusion. His voice pulls you right in. Doller paints Travis as equal parts asshole and sweetheart with humor, directness, and realism. He talks and thinks like a guy. Meaning he makes some dick moves, but somehow it all adds up to a guy you want to root for and love. There is a romance in this book, but I almost don’t want to talk about it—even though I love Harper. Girl, we need to grab a beer together! This book is not a romance though. It’s a powerful journey of a Marine searching for normal after working and surviving in a war zone. You need to listen to his story. I learned a thing or two. You might too.

This is one of my favorite Travis moments—the way he describes his life in the Marines:

“Except for the part where people shoot at you, it’s not all that different from any other job. There are things I like and things that suck.”

And this is one of my favorite Doller descriptions:

It’s quiet. Only the soft whoosh of the waves and the round white moon, scattering its reflection across the water.”

I know this isn’t much of a review, but I don’t feel the need to ramble on. I loved it. Read it!

Profile Image for Roksana.
393 reviews461 followers
January 14, 2016
SELF NOTE: The hero slept with his ex whilst already had feelings for the heroine and admit to himself that " He did it because he could" I am sorry but that is not good enough for me..that's just a lame excuse to cheat!
Profile Image for Ginger at GReadsBooks.
371 reviews56 followers
June 4, 2018
Originally posted at GReads: http://www.greadsbooks.com/2012/03/so...

Stop. Take a minute to breath. Process. Allow it all to sink in. Now go back & re-read it all over again. That is my initial reaction to this book. Contemporaries hold a special place in my heart when it comes to literature because they make you feel such strong emotions. I know any book can have that effect on a person, but contemporary pieces like this one have the ability to grab my heart, twist it, hug it, break it in to a million pieces, and then put it all back together again swelling with pure love. Trish Doller's debut novel Something Like Normal is far from normal. It is contemporary fiction at it's best.

Travis has just come home on leave from spending the last year serving his country in Afghanistan. His mother's welcome wagon, along with his judgmental father, and second-hand brother aren't exactly home for Travis. He prefers the camaraderie of his brother-hood in the hot, sandy desert. Travis is also dealing with the effects of losing one of his mates in battle. The tough facade he tries to portray while on base begins to crack once he is confined back inside his childhood home. Though he's only home for a few weeks, he tries his best to bide his time among a sea of faces that have now become strangers to him. What he once thought was important, now holds less meaning. Travis is a changed young man, but he doesn't quite know it yet.

Harper is the girl who tries to show him that change, but it didn't start off that easy. Their relationship begins with a punch to the face (Travis' face that is) and the angst just keeps rising. These two characters are probably one of the most well written love interests I have come across. Their attitudes towards one another felt so believable to me. Harper has her reservations about Travis in the beginning due to their past. We also learn that Harper is a forgiving person, with a heart that goes on for miles. I adore this girl, so much. She was the perfect match for Travis. She off-sets his bruiting, hostile persona so well. The two of them together lit up every page. Their love was a slow build, and oh man.. those slow builds are the best! Feel the burn. I was completely convinced by their true feelings.

The story goes beyond just love though, it digs deep in to family turmoil. The relationship building between Travis and his mom was another favorite of mine to witness. I love when an author gives secondary characters such strong voices. Travis' mom did not fade in to the background, she stood strong in every scene, even during her weakest moments. There were quite a few other secondary characters that captured my heart as well. The involvement kept me turning the pages. I knew I was in for some heavy heart ache, especially when it includes a story about a young man coming home from a foreign war. There are so many challenges a person can face, and it's right to assume they will come home a changed person.

Trish Doller, I bow down to you. Your ability to tell a story with so much depth, compassion, angst, and believability has left me breathless. I want to re-read this book a dozen more times. Thank you for sharing with us one of the best contemporary novels. I can't wait for the world to read this one. It's definitely an impressionable piece.
August 14, 2012
Travis is home on leave from a stint in Afghanistan where he was in the middle of some really horrible things so he's gotten extra time off. Unfortunately, things at home are not great either but Travis has to find a way to deal with it.

Let me just say that I do not like military stories or anything similar at all so I am really shocked that I wanted to read this. I think I was drawn to the male's POV and I really enjoyed it. So much so that I read it all in a few hours...I guess it helped that it's not very long.

Travis, aka Solo, just draws you in. You get to learn that he was a pretty typical teenage "boy" before he went into the military but he definitely became a "man". He still makes some mistakes but he owns up to them. Unfortunately, he is dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and while he knows there is something wrong with him, it takes awhile for him to get help. Luckily, he gets reacquainted with Harper and she opens up a whole other world for him.

Harper is wonderful and I loved seeing the impact she had on Travis. It was awful hearing about the pain he caused her when he was young and stupid but I believe she always had a thing for him. I was glad that she stuck by him and was able to help him. (I still want to know what her tattoo was!!)

We get to know quite a bit about Travis' family and friends growing up and some of his friend from his unit. I loved how Travis and his mom worked out their relationship. I also got a kick out of Travis' relationships with the guys from his unit...how they talked to each other and teased each other.

The last chapter is a sort of epilogue in that it fills you in on what is going on and I really liked that. But both Travis and Harper are young (19) and Travis is only done with his first year of military service so it's really left open as to what happens to them in the future.

Cover Talk: I love the cover and it's really funny that I only noticed them about to kiss and not the dog tags till after I read the book.

Favorite quotes:

♦ "I got a bad feeling about this.”

♥ Normal.

I don’t know if my life will ever be completely normal again, but something like normal is a good start.

February 15, 2015
Okay, I'm in the minority here. Lotsa people loved this book. I am not one of them.

Let me get this off my chest: Its far, faaar from a bad book. Not great, but not bad by any means.

I was pretty tempted to give this a three stars, but went with my overall feelings of this book than anything else.

Here is where it gets complicated, though; the best and worst things about this book is Travis.

On one hand, I love that he realises how shitty he has been to his mom and helps her with her problems. On the other hand, he sleeps with his brother's girlfriend while knowing he harbors deep affection for her.

I get that when you come back from war, you want to hold on to everything thats familiar, no matter how wrong or right it is. But chasing that familiarity, knowing that another person is going to be hurt by your actions, is pretty unforgivable.

Then another problem I have with this book is how Travis' and Harper's relationship went too fast and hence became a little unbelievable.

More so when you come to fact that when Travis and Harper where younger, he spread a horrible rumor about Harper that made her high school life Hell.

Sure, at first, Harper was rightly furious and enraged at Travis when he tried to talk to her in the bar, going so far as to even punch him I liked that girl. But after that one incident, Harper suddenly acts kind and civil to Travis, as if all her indignation left with that one single punch. As if years of humiliation and rage didnt mean anything any more.


In my opinion, the best parts were probably when Travis had his 'conversations' with his dead friend, Charlie, dreams and memories from when he was in Afghanistan and that letter in the end of the book. It was beautiful and almost made me cry.
Profile Image for Glass.
643 reviews4 followers
June 28, 2012
Review posted on Ja čitam, a ti?

I picked up this book thinking: "I need something light for this first hot days of summer." Did I get what I wanted? No. Maja from The Nocturnal Library wrote in her review that cover is "misleading" and I have to agree with her. You would expect hot romance and not the story about young man who is trying to fit in after all the horible things he saw and death of his best friend. Actually, he is not even trying to fit in - Travis is just counting days until the day when he'll leave again. In the meantime, he's making some good and some bad choices and doesn't want to deal with the obvious problem.

What I liked the most? Romantic love is not going to make everything go away and author isn't giving us happily ever after. Travis needs long term medical help to get well and not few steamy dates. Girl helps but in the other way than you might think. I believe that Something Like Normal will enjoy older readers. Teens would probably hate everything that we liked - but they'll grow up pretty soon, understand some things better and start to appreciate different thoughts and ideas about what is important.

What made me angry? Politics. How come that you have no problem with sending eighteen year old boys in to war and make them kill other people, but it is not good idea to let them drink until they are twenty-one?

I would recommend this book to everyone who wants to read something with deeper meaning and what will make them think about what's really important in the life.
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