Friday, June 27, 2014

Personal Effects and PTSD

I recently read two books that I felt deserved to be written about together: E.M. Kokie's Personal Effects and Laurie Halse Anderson's The Impossible Knife of Memory.

I'd never heard of Personal Effects, but it caught my attention on the shelf of "What Teens Are Reading" at Barnes & Noble. I know that it's hard to find a book with a male protagonist, so I knew I had to get this for my students. The main character, Matt Foster, lives with his dad, and he can't quite seem to do the right things. He often gets into trouble at school, and his dad has these very strict ideas of masculinity: if someone hits you, you beat them up; you don't show your weaknesses; and you certainly never talk about your feelings.

This makes it difficult for Matt to deal with life, as his brother, T.J., was recently killed in Iraq. Matt's dad essentially shuts down any conversation about T.J., and he has also hidden all traces of T.J. in the hopes of preventing any conversation about him. This takes a toll on Matt because it seems like no one wants to talk about the pain that is so evident.

This book is a real page-turner. When Matt and his dad receive his brother's personal effects (I can admit that I did not know this term until this book!), Matt decides to go on an adventure to understand the missing aspects of T.J.'s life that he never knew.

I didn't know what The Impossible Knife of Memory was about before I bought it--I just trusted that Laurie Halse Anderson, one of my favorite young-adult authors,  produced yet another book that I would fall in love with. And I have to say that this is, by far, my favorite of her works.

The main character, Hayley, is sort of in a similar situation to Kokie's Matt Foster. She lives at home with her dad, an ex-trucker and veteran from the war in Iraq, and she, like Matt, is the emotional fulcrum. Her dad doesn't talk about his experiences, but Hayley often hears her father's nightmares in the middle of the night and has to cope with his, at times, erratic behavior during the day.

This story takes place during Hayley's senior year of high school, when she and her dad attempt a year of life off the road. But things get emotional and deep really quickly in this novel. Hayley endures and copes with her father's post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in ways that I could never imagine. She is brave, strong, and more mature than anyone her age should have to be as things worsen with her father's illness. Her lies to cover up his behavior and her frustrations at school all build up to make this story intense and one you won't want to put down.

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