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Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

If PTSD in returning soldiers wasn’t such a serious issue, then The Right Side by Spencer Quinn would be a humorous book. But it is a serious issue and Quinn handles it with humor while getting his point across: PTSD can manifest itself in many ways, some of which mess with your mind, make you forget things you remembered seconds ago, disorient you.

If you were expecting another Chet and Bernie novel, you won’t find it in The Right Side, although a key character is a dog named Goody.  LeAnne Hogan was injured in Iraq, losing her right eye, her right side becoming her blind side. While in Walter Reed Hospital, she befriends her roommate, Marci, who dies suddenly of a blood clot. LeAnne decides on the spur of the moment that Walter Reed is doing her no good, nor is the hospital psychiatrist, Dr. Machado, so she up and leaves, with no particular plan.

Readers will follow LeAnne as she makes her way across the country in search, really, of herself. The ups and downs are dramatic, the almost loss of control at times real and scary. Quinn acknowledges two U.S. Army Veterans who reviewed and critiqued the book, so I’m assuming that Quinn’s portrayal of PTSD is accurate.

Quinn draws a good and realistic picture of LeAnne and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be drawn to her and Goody and want her to overcome her demons. In reality, I’m guessing, you don’t necessarily overcome them; you just get them somewhat under control.

If you’re interested in a young adult book on PTSD, then I’d suggest The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson and The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt.

I’ll go out on a limb and say The Right Side is one of the best books I’ve read this year, not necessarily because it’s overly literary, but because it addresses an ongoing issue with sensitivity and humor.

 

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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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