Author: E.M. Kokie
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release date: September 11th 2012
Genre: Contemporary YA
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Seventeen-year-old Matt Foster thought that if he could only get his hands on his brother’s stuff from Iraq, he'd be able to make sense of T.J.’s death. He wasn’t expecting T.J.’s personal effects to raise even more questions about his brother’s life. Now, even if it means pushing his dad over the edge ... even if it means losing his best friend ... even if it means getting expelled from school ... Matt will do whatever it takes to find out the truth about his brother’s past.My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I think I would have loved this book even more if I hadn't read it right after Something Like Normal - the books deal with very similar topics, and nothing can compare to my one true love, Something Like Normal. That being said, I really enjoyed Personal Effects!
Matt is a compelling narrator. It's impossible not to feel for someone with a family situation as messed up as his! His mom, who had some mental health issues, left the family when Matt was young, and died shortly after. His dad has always been abusive. Then his brother dies in combat. If that's not enough for one person to have to deal with, I don't know what is! I didn't always relate to Matt or fully understand him, just because he's so different from me, but I did feel for him, and I loved reading about him. Matt's voice is great - very authenticly male.
I really enjoyed EM Kokie's writing style. I can't put my finger on what it is about the writing - I wouldn't call it beautiful and it's not too descriptive or ornate, but there's just something about it. The writing sucked me in, and that's what it all comes down to, isn't it? EM Kokie's style made it easy to get lost in Matt's world. The writing is understated for the most part, letting the reader focus on Matt and his story, but then there are parts that'll make you stop and, you know, feel. The author has a keen eye for realistic dialogue, and the pacing was perfect. I just loved it!
Some people might find the plot predictable - re-reading the synopsis, I guess you might have been able to tell what TJ's hiding. But I didn't figure it out beforehand, and I loved finding out more about TJ's past! Maybe some parts and clues are a little too convenient, but I didn't even care, because the journey they sent Matt on is so amazing.
I also loved the romance. I'm a huge fan of the classic best-friends-turning-into-more storyline, even if it is overdone. But I don't think it'd matter if you don't tend to love those kind of storylines, since the fact that it's from the guy's POV adds something new and original, even if it's an idea we've read about a hundred times from the girl's POV. There is some serious sexual tension in Personal Effects - the scenes between Matt and Shauna are hot! Like, really really hot. I loved these two together, but I also appreciate that the romance didn't turn into the main focus of the novel - this is still just Matt's story.
The family storyline is very well-done. The whole set-up is unique and definitley intriguing. I would have liked to know even more about the family background - about the mom and how Matt dealt with her death, as well as the dad's history and why he is the way he is. But in a way, I get why the author decided to focus on Matt dealing with the more recent loss of his brother.
I'm loving this trend towards these war-focused stories! I'm not even sure why, since it's not something I'm all that interested in in real life, but it definitely causes for some good stories. This is hard to talk about without spoiling anything, but Personal Effects also has a political element, which, surprisingly, I enjoyed. Don't let that turn you off - when I read fiction, I'm not looking for news or politics or anything like that, either. But in this case, it works really well with the story.
Personal Effects is a great debut novel with a refreshing style and realistic characters. It balances the different aspects of the story perfectly, seamlessly transitioning from serious to light and back again. I loved it, and I'll be on the lookout for future books by EM Kokie!