Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller

>> Tuesday, May 07, 2013

TITLE: Something Like Normal
AUTHOR: Trish Doller

PAGES: 225
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: New Adult romance

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.

This is one of the New Adult books everyone seems to like, so I had high hopes for it. It's entirely narrated from the point of view of Travis, a 19-year-old soldier who's serving in Afghanistan. As the book starts, he's on leave and staying at his parents' house, and almost wishing he was back in Afghanistan. His father is a complete prick, his mother excuses him, and his ex-girlfriend is now his brother's girlfriend (which doesn't keep her from climbing into Travis' bed at every opportunity). Not to mention the fact that, after some very traumatic experiences in the last year, he's finding it impossible to just slot back into his old life, as everyone expects him to just do.

I suspect the only reason I didn’t absolutely love this was that I approached this as a romance novel. There is a romance, and the book does focus on it, so it’s not that I didn’t get a romance novel. It’s that the romance I got did not appeal to me at all.

The romance has Travis reconnecting with Harper, a girl whom his thoughtless actions as an arsehole 14-year-old harmed quite terribly. He pretty much can't stand to be with anyone else, but being with Harper calms something in him, and before long, they're involved. I could see what he saw in her, but I just couldn't understand why she'd want anything to do with him.

For starters, there's the infidelity, which is a bit of a hot button for me. As I mentioned earlier, Travis' ex, Paige, keeps sneaking into his bed and he doesn't throw her out. Some of these episodes happen when he's already pursuing Harper. It felt very sordid. Travis just gives in whenever Paige decides she wants to have sex with him. There’s no thought there, although he feels afterwards that he shouldn’t have done it. It’s an “it didn’t mean anything” kind of deal, and when he tells Harper about it, she forgives him pretty easily, with no explanation at all, not even a need for him to explain why he’d done it, nothing.

She really does forgive MUCH too much. The infidelity is bad enough, but the history between them is horrendous. They kissed when they were 14, and he embellished the story a bit when he told his friends (said he felt her up, that sort of thing). Fine, he was 14. But then the story got exaggerated more and more (it’s implied Paige was behind it, so clearly, she was this vicious slag even at 14), and people are soon saying Harper fucked everyone in the party, and she gets this really awful reputation, and Travis says nothing. Yes, he’s 14, but this does have a severe effect on Harper. I mean, they’re 19 in this book, and Harper says she still gets grabbed by random guys because of it, and has never had a boyfriend. She needed to make Travis suffer before she even looked at him. It really annoyed me that the message seems to be that because he’s a soldier, then he’s automatically forgiven all this.

There were other things that bothered me. Women Travis’ age are either Harper or all sluts. Nice sluts, like Amber or Lacey (Harper’s friends) or evil sluts, like Paige, but sluts, all the same. Argh!

I did like some things about the book, though. As a story of a young man coming back from war, mourning a friend and feeling completely out of place in his old life, it’s really good. Without any psychobabble, Doller shows how his experiences of war have shaped Travis and the difficulties in having changed so much when those left behind haven't. The family drama was also good. Just not the romance. I think if the focus had been on Travis, and not so much on his relationship with Harper, this would have worked much better for me.



Brie 7 May 2013 at 23:02  

Interesting what you said about the book not working for you because you approached it as a romance.

I've been thinking about YA, NA and the way they relate to Romance. In a way, YA is never about the romance, even if the love story is central to the plot or used to tell the story. In the end, though, the books are about the personal journey of the characters, which is why YA can get away with breaking genre conventions like cheating and the HEA.

NA, on the other hand, seems to be more on the side of romance, which is one of the reasons why I fear for its longevity. If we narrow it down to romances with college-aged characters, we’re going to run out of stories quickly, not to mention that we miss the point of what NA is (or should be) about. If we use the romance to tell the coming-of-age story of the main character, but don’t make it all about the romance, then we have way more room for exploration. So I would like to see more non-romance NAs.

I agree that the romance in the book was somewhat lacking, but to me, it was quite fitting and realistic (I even liked the infidelity part, although “like” is probably the wrong word). I wouldn’t bet on them staying together forever, though, so in that sense it is unsuccessful as a Romance.

Have you read Raw Blue by Kristy Eagar? That one is definitely *not* a romance, although it does have a love interest, but it’s the type of NA I would like to see more of.

Great review!

Rosario 8 May 2013 at 06:30  

Hmm, interesting! Looking back at my experiences with the genres, the most successful YAs for me have been the ones that are furthest from the romance genre (my definition of romance, BTW, is a story where the focus is on a romantic relationship with a HEA). With NA, I think I've been approaching them more as romance novels with characters who happen to be a particular age. Maybe that's because my first was Easy, where the romance was so wonderful and, I'd argue, quite central.

I don't really have a clear opinion about what they *should* be. I'm interested in NA romance, but also very interested in NA non-romance. It's an exciting an interesting time in people's lives, and young people now are dealing with such different issues to the ones I faced 15 years ago (man, I feel old now!). Whether these issues involve romance or not, I want to read about them.

I haven't read Raw Blue, but it's on my TBR. Do you mean there's not a HEA (I like to be forwarned!), or that you didn't find the romance central?

Brie 8 May 2013 at 13:39  

The couple ends together, but the heroine's issues are a work in progress, so it's a happy-for-now ending that's more hopeful than actually happy. The romance isn't central, but it does play a role in the story and helps the heroine a lot. It's actually quite sweet in an unconventional way. This book is a bit bleak, so you have to be in the right mood to read it, but it's very, very good. It deals with rape, in case that's a trigger for you.

I'm still defining NA -- aren't we all?-- but I think there's more to it than what it's popular right now, which is heavy focus on the romance (nothing wrong with that, but diversity is good)

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