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Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

IllMeetYouThereAlex and Josh are lost souls for two very different reasons. Josh just returned from Afghanistan minus a leg. The all American boy, good at sports and getting girls, is not quite what he used to be. That’s before you consider the nightmares and how he stiffens when he hears loud noises, such as fireworks.

Alex, on the other hand, lost her father five years earlier and her mother has been on a steady decline ever since. Now, having lost her job, her mother has taken to staying in their trailer and is seeing a total sleazeball who encourages her to drink. Alex is wondering whether she’ll have to be the family’s total support and be forced to turn down her full scholarship to San Francisco State.

Somehow, though, at Josh’s ‘welcome home’ party in July, the two seem to connect. What a contrast, Alex the ‘good girl’ never drinking (because her father died in an auto accident when driving while intoxicated) and Josh, who will chug a beer and crush the can.

Alex, for some reason, brings out Josh’s softer side and Josh makes her feel safe.PurpleHeart

In I’ll Meet You There, readers will feel the complexity of Josh and Alex’s relationship and the insecurity each feels. Alex, having never had a boyfriend and Josh, needing to shed his image of chasing everything in a skirt, are unsure both of their feelings and how to act upon them.

ThingsABrotherKnowsDemetrios touches on the PTSD that Josh faces after returning from the war zone. Although it is not the premise of the book, it certainly plays a role in Josh’s (and Alex’s) life. A more pointed and wonderful book dealing with PTSD is Patricia McCormick’s Purple Heart. Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt is also worth reading.

I’ll Meet You There is a poignant story bound to, at different times, bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your face.

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ImpossibleKnifeOfMemoryI come from the post-World War II generation. My father and two uncles were in the war but they never talked about it. I have photos of my dad in uniform looking so distinguished and photos of him stepping off an airplane or in an office, all smiling. I think my uncles had it worse than my father, combat-wise. But they never talked about it. Looking at the photos, you’d think it was sleep away camp.

Talking to the WW II veterans at our library for our Oral History Project, they all have stories, some happy, some sad, but they all talk about it and smile. There is a far away look in their eyes sometimes. But, by and large, it seems that the memories are fond ones.

But looking at old newsreels and documentaries we know it wasn’t a pleasure trip our soldiers took. Now compare the means we used to wreak devastation in that war with all the new, more effective, more ghastly means we have now and it’s no wonder that our soldiers suffer post-traumatic stress disorders when they return home.

That’s what Laurie Halse Anderson addresses so well in The Impossible Knife of Memory. Seventeen year old Hayley’s father, Andy, served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and came home a shadow of his former self. For a while he drove a big rig with Hayley in the passenger seat. But he spontaneously decided to return to his boyhood home so that Hayley can finish high school like a normal kid. Unfortunately with a tormented father and no mother, her life was anything but normal. Being on the road and home-schooled, she didn’t know the rules of high school nor of boy-girl relationships. Add to that the uncertainty: will her father wake up, will he be sober and sane or tormented and drunk? Must she walk on eggshells?

Then enter Trish, Hayley’s surrogate parent for a while whose relationship with Andy was troubled and who walked out on them. Do Hayley or Andy need this?

As with Speak and Wintergirls, Anderson wonderfully, readably, delves into a difficult, relevant, contemporary topic. The characters come alive. You are in Hayley’s living room after Andy’s trashed it because he learned an Army buddy was killed in action. You are there, on the edge along with Andy. There are few books that, as you read, you feel that you are alongside the main character and this is one. The Impossible Knife of Memory will stay in your memory for a long time.

Read the New York Times Book Review write-up by Jo Knowles: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/12/books/review/laurie-halse-andersons-impossible-knife-of-memory.html?_r=0

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