Wednesday, May 29, 2013

REVIEW: Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie


Personal Effects
by E.M. Kokie

Matt Foster got into another fight: a peacenik student flaunting his "Bring Our Soldiers Home...Not in Pieces" shirt. Matt is suspended and has to pay for the display case he broke while pummeling the kid's face bloody. His principal wants him to work on anger management. His dad applauds Matt's actions, asserting that the kid deserved it, and he is proud that his son acted like a man. Soon the reader discovers why Matt acted so extremely: Matt's older brother, TJ died in Iraq. Matt's father is dealing with it in his own way, through violent outbursts against his remaining son, and by eradicating any evidence that TJ ever existed. Matt is trying to mourn in his own way and struggling with his father's expectations that he follow TJ into the army, but his life is quickly imploding. When TJ's remaining personal effects are shipped home, Matt sneaks a peek before his father is able to hide them. What he discovers sends him on a journey, discovering who TJ really was, and who Matt will become.

This book is way outside of my wheelhouse, and I wasn't sure if I would be able to relate. Matt and his father are from a conservative military family, and when he beats the kid for flaunting his peace paraphernalia, I was wary. I thought the book might be about hawk vs dove. However, it is really about the deep grieving of a family who was touched by war (picking a fight with a kid who wears peace as a fashion statement).

Matt goes through a crucible in this book, dealing with his anger and sadness, his feelings for his best friend, his father's violence and expectations, and the explosive revelation about TJ that shakes his entire foundation.  In the end, he comes out a stronger, calmer, more self-assured man who may not know where he is going, but he knows what he wants. He is such a compelling character.

John Green and Neil Gaiman both say that we should read books to live lives we never would have lived, to see inside someone else's head. To develop empathy. This book did just that. It gave me a peek into a life I never imagined, and have often put up walls against. I am so happy I branched out.

I don't have much more to say about the book, because I was so engrossed, I didn't really notice style or take any notes. It was kind of refreshing that he wasn't saved by classic art or literature (OK for Now or The Wednesday Wars, the two sons-with-abusive-fathers books I have read previously), but by human interaction. An excellent read.

Books Like This:
Ok for Now Gary D. Schmidt



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