I'm kind of at a loss where to begin with Laurie Halse Anderson's new book. In many ways, it's much like her other books: issue-oriented without being preachy, full of harsh situations and likable characters.
The issue on the table in this novel is the very timely PTSD. Seventeen-year-old Hayley Kincain's father is a vet with several tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan behind him. He was wounded and discharged a while back, and they've spent the past five years leading an unconventional life, driving a big rig. But her father's "episodes" have gotten worse, and he's been fired. They're back in Hayley's father's hometown trying to lead a "normal" life.
While Anderson never labels Hayley's father with PTSD, it's pretty obvious from flashbacks (both his and Hayley's) and the way he interacts with the rest of the community -- he withdraws into himself whenever someone thanks him for his "service", and refuses to attend any ceremonies for veterans -- are indicators that her father is far from okay.
Which is one of the reasons why Hayley doesn't want to fit in with all the "zombies" at school. She calls the rest of the student populations "zombies" because they have bought into the system, worrying about things like grades, and hair, and boyfriends. She spends her days skipping or sleeping through classes, but I found it difficult to blame her; when your father is either drunk or high because he's trying to suppress the nightmares, things like boys and grades to seem trivial.
Until Finnegan Ramos steps into her life. Don't get the idea that this is 1) a love story or 2) that the boy "saves" her. Even though there is some kissing, and Finn is one of the catalysts, this is really Hayley and her father's story. And they don't find the path towards healing until it hits rock bottom. And it's Anderson's gift that she takes us on this dark, winding path without it becoming overbearing, preachy, or inaccessible.
Instead, she shines a light on vets, on war and the effect it has on families, and how it's never good to shoulder a burden alone.
Which makes this book rise from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Review by Melissa Fox