"She has big boobs and -"
"There is no comparison," I interrupt. "Everything about you is better."
"You didn't think so in middle school."
"I was fourteen," I say. "I was thinking with the wrong head back then. As opposed to, you know, now. When I only think with the wrong head sometimes."
Ladies and gents, meet Travis Stephenson, my latest favourite YA/NA male narrator. He is my male Francesca Spinelli, that character who isn't really all that special but managed to pinch my heart in the most effortless kind of way anyway.
Travis is on a 4-week leave after being deployed in Afghanistan over a year ago. After his best friend, Charlie, was killed while they were on duty together, Travis has been plagued with guilt, nightmares, and hallucinations of him. His homecoming isn't promising to be a reprieve from his physical and internal wars either, seeing that he still doesn't get along with his overbearing father and his younger brother has basically taken over his car, his girlfriend and his friends. Currently, there is only one person who Travis wants to spend time with, but Harper Gray doesn't want anything to do with him after he started false rumors about her back in middle school.
"You might not remember me, but -"
"Travis Stephenson," she interrupts, her words like a roadblock. "Welcome home. Now leave me alone."
Damn, she's hostile.
Still, he persists, and the two form a friendship unlike anything he had prior to leaving for Afghanistan. The romance is cute and realistic - devoid of weighty promises of undying love and commitment. There were so many scenes between them that had me grinning, and this was mostly due to the unbelievably teenage-maleness of Travis's voice and how realistically his character was portrayed. Some might frown at one "mistake" in particular, but I think it was true to the portrayal of a confused mind that had just gone through something traumatic. I'm not excusing the act in question, but I certainly understand how it could've happened under his circumstances and history.
There wasn't a particularly strong message about the war and its cause in the book, and I don't think the author was aiming for that anyway, so I didn't mind the "lightness" of it in the book. I thought the delivery of PTSD and how it affected Travis and those around him was pretty effective. The distance between Travis and his family and old friends was highlighted because he now has this group of people whom he has a shared experience with. I loved the banter between him and the members of his platoon, how they joke and insult each other but still regarding each other like close friends or brothers.
I think I easily identified with Travis because his flaws were so honestly depicted. There's no traumatic childhood event that shaped his douchebaggery ways. Girls and booze seem like a normal constant in a nineteen year old. He might be someone you know or you might see a bit of yourself in him. I mean, how many of us have made a decision not because it was something we really wanted but because staying put wasn't an option?
I can't really pinpoint why I loved this book as much as I did. I just knew that after I finished it I wanted to reread it again right away. It was especially refreshing to read a contemporary romance through a male's POV. His post-traumatic stress was believable and understandable. In the romance department, some parts borderlined on the chessy, but instead of rolling my eyes I found myself smiling a lot. Travis is such an endearing and lovable hero. You just can't help but cheer him on, you know? I loved how his character grew and how he found supportive people to get him through the tough times. There was a perfect amount of humor, romance, family and relationship drama, internal struggles and tears. It might not have any life-altering effect on me. It might not have taught me anything new or insightful. It didn't even make me cry buckets - my usual criteria for highly rating something. But it just worked on so many levels. I finished three books and six novellas in the course of my weeklong staycation and while I liked them all, this was the one that compelled me enough to lift my reviewing ban. I highly recommend this to readers of character-driven contemporaries who'd want a rollercoaster of emotions type of reading experience.
"It fucking sucks. I just want to be normal again."
"Maybe, it's time to find a new normal."