Goodreads description: 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.
Travis is a Marine home on leave after a tour in Afghanistan. He lost a close friend there and isn’t sure how to deal with it. He’s not that excited to be home, where his dad is always disappointed in him and his brother has stolen his girlfriend and his car. He doesn’t care much about the girlfriend or even the car, he’s dejected and distant from most emotion. He was distant from his family before he left, but now it’s even worse.
This story is all in Travis’s POV. It can be rough, but it can also be funny. He thinks like a guy thinks and it all seemed realistic. It wasn’t all pleasant, and not just Marine memories. He wasn’t nice about girls and the term “slut” was thrown around liberally. He could be a real dick, but he was also vulnerable and caring.
He’s home from the war and his life has been changed, scarred, and shaken. He’s been through things that people in his hometown can’t even imagine. They ask him if he’s killed someone because they think it’s exciting. They don’t understand the guilt that goes along with it. He has flashbacks and dreams, he scans the ground for landmines, he sees and hears his dead best friend. He’s grappling with loss and he knows something is wrong with him but he’s not sure how to handle it. His struggle is so real and sad. It was intense to read about his life as a Marine and horrors he saw. It was frustrating to see how people reacted to him when he came home and how out-of-place he feels. I empathized with him and wanted him to be happy.
“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.”
I liked Harper. I was sad that she still had to deal with the aftermath of rumors from the 8th grade, most people at my school moved on from rumors after a while. I liked that Harper wanted to be a marine biologist and wanted to put herself through college. I like that she took a chance on a torn up, jerky Marine. I think she saw how earnest and vulnerable he was. Plus, he could be rather charming. The story wasn’t focused on the romance, but it was an important part of the story.
I enjoyed Travis’s relationship with his mom. She took it hard when he left home and she’s ecstatic when he returns. He isn’t exactly close to her (or anyone) but he loves her. I think coming back, he’s able to see things differently and he tries to approach his relationship with his mom in a different way. He tries to open up more, help her, and be there for her. It was a nice aspect of the story.
Travis feels realistic, like a real person. His thoughts on girls and sexuality aren’t nice but they seem like thoughts that a nineteen year old guy might actually think. I don’t think pretending a guy wouldn’t think of girls in such negative terms would make it a better book. It’s a problem that some guys do think like that, and talking about it and calling people out on their behaviors are all good things. I don’t think by writing him thinking that way Doller agrees with or condones his way of thinking. Maybe being with Harper will help him. Not in the he’ll be better for her way, but maybe she’ll call him out on his bullshit.
Something Like Normal was written well and the story was interesting. The voice sounds realistic and I enjoyed the romance. I removed a star for his judgmental thoughts because even if it’s realistic to his character it wasn’t pleasant to read. I think the story is important and it’s nice that someone wrote about a Marine dealing with PTSD. It seems like Doller did her research and I liked reading her acknowledgments page where she thanked Marines. There was a lot to like about this hopeful, earnest story. I don’t think it’s one I’d want to reread, but I am glad I read it I would recommend if you’re interested in a story about a Marine facing emotional and family problems, making life improvements, and romancing a cool girl, while having some douche-y thoughts.