Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review: While He Was Away by Karen Schreck

While He Was AwayAuthor: Karen Schreck
Genre: contemporary, romance
Pages: 249
Published: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Rating: 4/5 Stars

""This is just something I have to do, okay?" I hear David say. "The right thing."
He cradles my face in his hands. He kisses me hard. Then he lets go of me. His eyes dart from me to whatever's next. 

All she wants is for him to stay. She's been doing pretty well, pretending he doesn't have to go. But one day, after one last night to remember, she wakes up and there's no denying it anymore. He's gone.
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?" - Goodreads

There are few things more difficult than watching someone you care about go off to war.  If that person is your first love, it's even worse.  While He Was Away tells the story of Penna, a girl who is trying to find herself while her boyfriend is fighting half a world away.  Along this road to self-discovery she finds the true meaning of friends, family and loving yourself.  I won While He Was Away in a giveaway a couple of months ago and couldn't wait to read it.  I'm so happy I did.   I don't read a ton of contemporaries because they can tend to be a bit depressing and schmultzy but While He Was Away just seemed real.  It had all of the drama and uncertainty of a high school relationship mixed with the very adult world of the soldier and the girl he leaves behind.  This is a very special book and I really enjoyed it.

  • Non-Political:  One of the most controversial and polarizing issues of our time is the Iraq War.  Everyone has their own opinions and many people are more than happy to share those opinions with others regardless of whether or not they are welcome.  This can cause things to go downhill quickly with both conversations and books.  There are certain times when a reader wants to explore a hot-button issue and times when they just want to read a love story.  I was really happy that Schreck kept the politics at a minimum in this book.  I was worried that it would be "message-y" and frankly I was just in the mood for a good read.  Now, I don't have any problem with politics.  In fact, I majored in Political Science in college.  But, from time to time, I just don't want someone else's opinions lobbed in my general direction.  Schreck was able to keep all of the intensity of the war in the story without assaulting the reader with propaganda from one side or the other.
  • Family and Forgiveness:  Everyone has dysfunction in their family.  It's just a fact of life.  Some of us have crazier families than others but we all have problems.  Penna is no exception.  She lives with her single mom who was abandoned by her own mother and left in the care of an alcoholic father.  Penna has never met her dad.  Lot's of authors would take this situation and weave a web of drama and anger around it, but Schreck creates an atmosphere of love, loyalty and forgiveness.  Penna struggles with their situation while trying to reassemble the pieces of her broken family.  It really makes the story all the more emotional and touching.
  • Realistic Love:  While He Was Away is not a tale of idealistic love.  The relationship between David and Penna is very realistic.  In the beginning of the book Penna is going through the difficult process of saying goodbye.  She is deeply in love with David and has already dealt with him being gone for his training and now she has to say goodbye again, this time he will be going to a war zone.  
"'Wait!'  I shout.  'I'll see you again before you go, right?  I'll see you tomorrow?'
But David is already driving away, lost in the dark.  And tomorrow is today."
 As the story goes on and David and Penna spend more time apart, they struggle to keep their         relationship intact,  but despite this, they still love each other.  Penna has to deal with David's absence, her fear for his safety and his choice of the Army over her.  It is a much more realistic portrait of young love during war time than some other books and movies do.


  • Writing style was hard to get used to.  The book is narrated by Penna, which adds a lot of personality to the story but also can tend to get a bit confusing.  Penna tends to lapse into these streams of consciousness while she's narrating and it can be hard to keep up.  The storytelling can get disjointed but once you are used to it, the story flows pretty smoothly.
  • The ending (no spoilers).  I have to say I wasn't super happy with the ending.  I thought I knew where it was going and I was wrong, but I wish I had been right.  It just sort of fizzled for me.  I would have liked to see a better, more emotional ending, but I guess that this one works with the realism.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants a good story about a personal journey.  Both David and Penna grow and change throughout the book and it's really nice to watch.  The love story is also pretty good, but I wouldn't pick this one up if you're looking for a big sweeping romance novel.

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