Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Why I read it: I saw the Twitter buzz about this one – Brie from Romance Around the Corner and Jane from Dear Author were both recommending it and I picked it up from Kobo with a coupon which meant I only paid about $5.  Yippee

What it’s about: (from Goodreads) 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.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): I’m a hero-centric reader, so a story told from the hero’s POV is very tempting for me. There aren’t that many of them around.
I suspect that the “new adult” stories I’ve been reading lately have worked for me largely because, even though the protagonists are young, they are dealing with adult issues.  Coming back from war is definitely something that strikes me as very adult and the depiction here seemed very authentic.  Travis came across as a 19 year old who had seen too much, who was starting to mature and realise that life doesn’t revolve only around him (as teenagers do).  He notices his mother in a new way and thinks about her happiness, rather than just what she can/should do for him.  He reconnects with Harper and for the first time (it appears) really understands what his thoughtless exaggeration of their game of  “7 minutes in heaven” in middle school meant for her.  (Although, to be fair, it wasn’t all his fault – I suspect Paige had much to do with how big the story became).  I would have liked to have seen Travis stand up to his friends a little more on Harper’s behalf  and actually make it clear to them that the rumours were false but you can’t have everything.
Travis is far from perfect but he’s working hard to become a better man and I believed that by the end of the book he was on his way.   There was a delightful lack of arrogance about him too.  His transformation was perhaps a bit fast, but I put that down to his adult experience of war.  I was prepared to accept that having those experiences and then being back in his home town for the first time since he enlisted, meant that he saw things a different way than he had before.  It made sense to me that he would place value differently now.
His interactions with Paige (his ex-girlfriend, now his brother’s girlfriend) were interesting.  Ordinarily they would be the type to really piss me off but actually, they fit with where I saw Travis at the time, his age and even where things were at with Harper.  My sense was that he was letting things happen to him – and Paige fell into that category.  When he finally started to control things better and make deliberate moves, he gave Paige her marching orders and I, as the reader, was able to move past it without any ill feeling for him.  I wondered how Harper would react.  In the end, I thought she probably had the right of it.  My sense was that she internally told herself the things she would not let Travis say and realised that he hadn’t actually made her any promises (as upsetting as it was).
I loved Travis’ sense of humour and the self-deprecating way he thought to himself. 

I’m not an especially romantic person, but when a beautiful girl invites a guy to the beach at night, sea turtles are not usually involved.

 It’s actually quite a romantic book – it’s not at all all explicit (which strangely enough for me, I didn’t mind at all – it fit the book entirely). 

I step into the space between us and take her face in my hands. I kiss her for days. Or maybe just a couple of minutes. It’s hard to tell.

What I also liked is how Travis is always 19 when he’s being romantic, so there’s humour and youth mixed in.

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

and here

 “Yeah, well, it’s my first time with you and I want to get it right.” It sounds like a line. Like I’m trying to get in her pants. Which I am, but not the way it seems. Harper’s skepticism registers in the hitch of her brows and it makes me laugh. “Okay, that sounded lame, but”—I drop my voice low because I have to admit something that kind of scares me—“I don’t want to mess this up.”

She gives me that tiny bit-lip smile that always knocks me out, and I know I’ve said the right thing.

“But”—I shoot her a grin—“if you want to wait, I’ll live. Of course, my balls will probably shrivel up and fall off, but don’t feel bad about that or anything.”

Harper gives me a little punch in the gut, then circles her arms around my neck. Her lower lip grazes mine and, just before she kisses me, she tells me to shut up.

I loved the interaction between his fellow Marines – that felt very authentic to me.  I saw from the author’s acknowledgements at the back of the book that she spoke to many Marines during her research and the portrayal of life in Afghanistan and the camaraderie between the fellow solders felt very realistic.  Sometimes, we bloggers talk about how women write male dialogue as they wish them to be, not as they are.  But I could imagine guys talking this way for sure:

“Did you or did you not close the deal, Kenneth?”

“I don’t think I want to tell you now.” He crosses his arms over his scrawny freckled chest, all huffy, and turns his nose up, pretending to ignore me.

“Kevlar, man, I thought we were BFFs,” I say. Moss doesn’t open his eyes, but a chuckle rumbles out. “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 suppose the secondary characters could have been further developed but to be honest I didn’t feel the lack.  I would have liked to have seen more interaction with Harper and Travis (more of Harper in general actually) and my HEA-gene would dearly love to know that Travis will survive his entire deployment.  Nevertheless, I appreciated that the story ended where it did – there is definitely a happy ending but not everything is sewn up with a bright red bow.  Which is a good thing – the kinds of experiences a soldier has in Afghanistan don’t get fixed in under 200 pages after all.
What else?  The book is fairly short, coming in at about 140 pages.  As much as I enjoyed it, I’m glad I didn’t pay full price.  On the one hand, for a fairly short novel it certainly packed a punch – I remember thinking when I first picked it up that there was a lot going on in such a small space, but it never felt rushed.  I have said before that writing short is a special talent and I think Ms. Doller has it.

Grade:  B+

4 comments on “Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

  1. Brie

    My sense was that he was letting things happen to him – and Paige fell into that category.That's a great way to put it, and I think what happens between them was great characterization and a fantastic way to show us how messed up he was at that point. Not every one will get it, especially if they are romance fans, but I did and it didn't bother me at all. It makes the ending even more realistic because you see him wake up and start living. Great review! 😉

  2. Kaetrin

    Thx Brie 🙂

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