Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: While He Was Away by Karen Schreck

Title: While He Was Away
Author: Karen Schreck
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: May 1st 2012
Pages: 256
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: NetGalley - thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for providing a free eGalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Find out more: Amazon | Goodreads

Goodreads description:
When Penna Weaver’s boyfriend goes off to Iraq, she’s left facing life without him. As summer sets in, Penna tries to distract herself with work and her art, but the not knowing is slowly driving her crazy. Especially when David stops writing. She knows in her heart he will come home— but will he be the same boy she fell in love with?
First sentence:
I won't let the Oklahoma wind whip our words away.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I was so, so excited to read While He Was Away - I love the whole idea, and it looked right up my alley. I hate when I'm disappointed by a book I had such high hopes for, but sadly, that's the case with While He Was Away. I wouldn't say it's a bad book, but it didn't live up to my expectations.

While He Was Away turned out to be a little different from what I'd expected. I'm not sure why - maybe because of the last sentence of the description - but I thought it would be about the time when David comes back, about how war changed him, that kind of thing. Rereading the description, I know that's my fault, since it's clear it's actually about how David leaves and what happens immediately after he leaves, but still, I ended up a little disappointed, seeing how little the "war changed him" aspect is addressed.

But first, the postive: Family turns out to play a much more important part in the story than you could tell from the description, and I really liked that aspect. I don't want to spoil anything, but there's some family drama that relates to Penna's current situation. I liked reading about Penna's grandmother and her struggle with Alzheimer's, as well as how her family's past influences Penna now. That was probably my favorite part of the novel.

What I didn't like, though, are the characters. I started out disliking Penna because she's so dependent on her boyfriend. I know, it's got to be hard, knowing her boyfriend is in danger, but how much of her life revolves around him still bugged me. Even before David leaves for Iraq, at which point it would be understandable, David is the most important thing in her life - she has no real girlfriends, and she does art but that isn't mentioned all that much early on. It just bugged me how dependent Penna is on David, how he's more important than taking care of herself. Later on, as Penna becomes stronger and more independent, I liked her better, but I still don't feel like she's a great character - I never felt like I really got to know her. It seemed like the reader couldn't go beneath the surface to really understand who Penna is.

The secondary characters are okay. I liked reading about Ravi and wish he'd played a more important role. The two girls Penna befriends, Caitlyn and Julie, are kind of bland, and I don't think the reader gets to know enough of their personalities.

Then there's the relationship between David and Penna. I wanted to like this part, I really did. But I just couldn't feel their relationship. I wanted to get to know David, even though he's not here, and I wanted to feel his absence and what it means for Penna, but I didn't. I would have liked some more flashbacks, some more scenes to show how Penna and David used to be, because the way it is, I never felt the chemistry between the two. That made it hard for me to feel for Penna missing David.

One thing I did like is what we find out about Iraq. I don't know much about the subject, so it was interesting to hear from David what it's like, serving in Iraq. I liked reading about life as a soldier, and especially about the orphanage and how that ties into the story.

I didn't care for the characters or the romance, so that made it hard for me to get into this book. It didn't make me feel all the things I was hoping it would. Still, While He Was Away isn't a bad book - I might have just had too high expectations, since this was one of my most-anticipated 2012-releases. I don't want to discourage you from reading this book - it just didn't make me, personally, feel as much as I had hoped it would. It's not a bad book, but it won't be going on my favorites-shelf, like I had thought it would when I first heard about it.

If you've read this book, what did you think?


  1. Aww too bad this sounded really awesome. I know expectations can totally change how yo ulike a book. It can be a perfectly great book but just not what you were planning to read you know. And I'm a big character reader so if I don't like characters it's pretty much a downer. Great review though :)


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