With the ongoing war on terror, the lives and deaths of young American soldiers has become a popular topic for authors of many genres, but especially for YA authors. Here are my picks on some very good YA reads involving soldiers at or after war.
While serving in Afghanistan, Ben suffers a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and wakes up in a hospital with no idea who he is, how he got there, and why he can longer form words to make those around him understand what he needs. His family, friends, and fiancé are strangers to him. His autistic brother is the only thing familiar in his world. He is utterly lost. This book shows how war destroys the individuals and the family. How the aftermath of life-altering injuries impacts not just the injured but everyone who loves him or her. The way Mazer portrays the insecurity and frustration of an injured soldier is fantastic. I especially love the scene that lends the book its title. It’s devastating and heartbreaking and stays with you after you have finished reading.
Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick
Matt Duffy has suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury thanks to an explosion from a rocket-propelled grenade. He wakes up in a hospital in Iraq with no memory of the events that landed him there, a very decreased vocabulary, and trouble walking. As he struggles to regain his words and his mental and physical health, he has flashbacks of the explosion that leave him even more confused. Then he finds out he’s under investigation for the death of an Iraqi civilian, a civilian who is in his flashbacks, but he can’t remember how the Iraqi died or how he himself was involved. As Matt struggles to piece his memories back together, McCormick takes the reader on a journey through the loss and fear that TBI survivors and soldiers face during war.
After his brother T.J. dies in Iraq, Matt’s life is a mess. Reeling from the grief, he is fighting in school and failing classes. Then T.J.’s footlocker shows up, and Matt’s world is really turned upside down. As his dead brother’s secrets spill forth from the footlocker, Matt embarks on a journey to discover who his brother truly was, and why he left Matt feeling as if he never knew his own flesh and blood. Personal Effects is a story of loss and being lost and what it takes to find direction again and comes to terms with deceit and death.
Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
Travis is home after serving in Afghanistan and watching his best friend and fellow soldier get killed, but nothing is as he left it. His parents are breaking up, his brother has stolen his girlfriend and his car, and Travis is suffering from PTSD and haunted by his friend’s death. He’s angry, he’s sad, he’s lost, he’s unsure how to communicate with the family and former friends he left behind. Everything is either overwhelming or completely detached. He’s starving for normal when he meets up with Harper, a girl he has crushed on for years. Slowly, she starts to bring him back from the brink, and, as Travis says, “I don’t know if my life will ever be completely normal again, but something like normal is a good start.”
Levi’s brother Boaz is finally back from the war except that he isn’t back, not really. Boaz has come home but something is really wrong with him. He shuts himself in his room and won’t talk to anyone. Then, he packs a bag and leaves again. This time, however, Levi follows him and sets off on a journey to rediscover Boaz and bring his brother home again. This was so well written and such a wonderful, touching story about the tragedy of war, the devastation of PTSD, and the love that can never be lost between brothers. It’s definitely one you’ll want to read in one sitting.
If I Lie by Corrine Jackson
This story is a little different. Instead of revolving around a soldier, it revolves around the people and the secret he left behind. When Carey ships off to war, his lifelong girlfriend Quinn is left to keep his secret safe, his huge, life-altering secret. When Carey is taken prisoner by the enemy, the waiting and not knowing overwhelms Quinn and drives her into the arms of another boy. Soon a picture of her kissing someone who is most definitely not Carey is circulating through town, and everyone is turning against the girl who cheated on her POW-hero-soldier boyfriend. As her life falls apart around her, Quinn must face the decision to save herself or keep Carey’s secret and let her life become collateral damage.