Something Like Normal
by Trish Doller
Original Publication Date: June 19, 2012
Length: 224 pages
Obtained Via: Bought
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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.
I read the first chapter of Something Like Normal, promptly set it down, and then verbally uttered an “ugh” out loud to an empty room.
After reading that first chapter, I was quite certain I was going to be the only person who disliked this book. But something made me pick it up again–curiosity, maybe, or optimism. A chapter later, I didn’t hate Travis anymore. A chapter after that, and I loved Harper. Then, two or three chapters later, I was completely engrossed in the story of these characters and trying to figure out how I got to that point so quickly.
Something Like Normal happens very much in an in-between place. Travis is on leave for a month after one of his friends has died, and it’s during that month that all the events of Something Like Normal take place. He’s not in Afghanistan, and he’s home, but he’s not really home yet, not for good. He’s also between the cusp of high school and life after(which is why I find it interesting that Something Like Normal is given a YA designation). And, of course, he’s dealing with a lot.
Travis returns home to find that his ex-girlfriend is now with his brother, that his mom and dad are having potentially relationship-ending difficulties, all the while still trying to sort of the traumatic events of what happened before he came home. This leads to him reconnecting with Harper. Their initial reunion is not a fun one–Travis is responsible for some of the rumors that floated around about Harper in high school and that followed her until graduation. After that, though, they strike up a friendship and then slowly progress into something else.
The idea of a romantic relationship in a story with something as serious as PTSD always has me a little weary. I’m never a fan of stories in which romantic relationships are used to completely rewrite past trauma, but Something Like Normal pleasantly surprised me. Harper isn’t a magical girl who waltzes into Travis’ life to fix all his problems. They’re simply two people who are flawed but strong and while they spur each other on in terms of emotional growth, they’re not wholly dependent on each other. Even before they began to get together in any romantic way, the relationship between the two of them is great.
Even though the story is told from Travis’ point of view, Doller does an excellent job of really rounding out Harper as a character as well, and I would love to see this story from her point of view. She’s a fantastic character really, a new favorite, and I was surprised I liked her–and Travis–as much as I did.
Something Like Normal is a fast-paced character driven story. Despite my hesitation in the premise, I found myself really reflecting on the book several days after finishing it, and I definitely recommend picking it up at some point. It’s a quick read that never seems bogged down despite the serious topics it addresses.
It took a little bit for me to warm up to Travis and his narration, but by chapter 3 I was hooked on Something Like Normal. One of my favorite male POV books I’ve read in a long while. 4/5 cupcakes.