Richie Partington's Reviews > Personal Effects

Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie
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it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, ya

Richie’s Picks: PERSONAL EFFECTS by E.M. Kokie, Candlewick, September 2012, 352p., ISBN: 978-0-7636-6203-5

“In response, McCain said, ‘That old, eh, that old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran’ -- which elicited laughter from the crowd. McCain then chuckled before singing -- to the tune of the chorus of the Beach Boys’ classic ‘Barbara Ann’ -- ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, anyway, ah…’
“The audience responded with more laughter.”
-- from the NPR article by Don Gonyea, April 20, 2007 “Jesting, McCain Sings: ‘Bomb, Bomb, Bomb’ Iran”

The Inventory:
One childhood friend who has turned into an eye-full of young woman.
One big brother who has been blown to bits in Iraq.
Three Army-issue footlockers filled with personal effects that might provide the angry grieving younger brother some help in overcoming his loss.

“I was sitting right here, debating between eggs and grilled cheese, chugging the last of the orange juice straight from the carton, when I felt something crawling over the back of my neck. I turned my head toward the door, spilling juice all over my chin and down the front of my gray T-shirt. I was halfway to the door, nearly empty carton still in my hand, when I heard them on the front steps. I opened the door before they even rang the bell. I knew. Before I even saw the uniforms, I knew.”

Seventeen year-old Matt Foster learned six months ago that his brother T.J. has been killed in the Iraq War. Matt’s abusive and alcoholic father has long expected Matt to follow T.J. into the military, and Matt figured that the military would be his escape from their father the same way that it had been T.J.s escape.

“Of all the lame shit on Pinscher’s backpack, his War Is Not the Answer sticker pisses me off the most -- even more than his Practice Nonviolence button, which makes me want to practice some violence on his face.”

Matt, who is already on the borderline of having to repeat his junior year of high school, begins the story by sending a schoolmate to the hospital with multiple injuries because Pinscher (as Matt has nicknamed him) has worn to school a T-shirt reading (on the front) Support OUR Troops: Bring Them Home, and (on the back) And not in Pieces, followed by a list of names of local casualties -- including T.J.’s name.

Over these months of grieving, Matt does not know what became of the small collection of items that were delivered to his father upon their notification of T.J.’s death. He cannot talk to his father about this, or about anything.

Now, in the midst of his suspension, in the midst of trying to get it sufficiently together to pass finals and not repeat eleventh grade, three footlockers filled with T.J.’s belongings arrive at the house. Fearing that his father will soon make the footlockers disappear -- and with them, the knowledge they contain of who his big brother had been in his final days -- Matt takes the dangerous action of crossing his father by snipping open the sealed footlockers, grabbing some of the effects, and then taping the seals back together to hide his theft.

When he reads the love letters he’s found, from Celia to T.J., and sees the photos of the young child named Zoe, and finds the sealed letter -- the letter to Celia that T.J. wrote but never got to mail -- Matt decides that he must travel from Pennsylvania to Madison, Wisconsin to meet these people, learn about T.J, and deliver T.J.s final letter.

And so, foregoing his finals and deceiving his father, Matt borrows his best friend Shauna’s car and embarks on a journey of exploration that will change his life.

First-time author E.M. (Emily) Kokie has written a no-holds-barred contemporary YA novel that is right up there with my all-time favorites of the genre. I’m telling you. If PERSONAL EFFECTS doesn’t make its way onto the Finalists list for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, I might well be punching out some walls myself.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 11, 2012 – Shelved
February 9, 2020 – Shelved as: fiction
December 7, 2022 – Shelved as: ya

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