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Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie

Thursday, September 6, 2012
Synopsis: After his older brother dies in Iraq, Matt makes a discovery that rocks his beliefs about strength, bravery, and honor in this page-turning debut.

Ever since his brother, T.J., was killed in Iraq, Matt feels like he’s been sleepwalking through life—failing classes, getting into fights, and avoiding his dad’s lectures about following in his brother’s footsteps. T.J.’s gone, but Matt can’t shake the feeling that if only he could get his hands on his brother’s stuff from Iraq, he’d be able to make sense of his death. But as Matt searches for answers about T.J.’s death, he faces a shocking revelation about T.J.’s life that suggests he may not have known T.J. as well as he thought. What he learns challenges him to stand up to his father, honor his brother’s memory, and take charge of his own life. With compassion, humor, and a compelling narrative voice, E. M. Kokie explores grief, social mores, and self-discovery in a provocative first novel.

Review: Every now and then, a book comes along that completely blows away even the highest expectations readers have for it. E. M. Kokie’s Personal Effects is one of those books.

The beauty of this book starts on the very first page. When protagonist Matt describes his annoyance with one of his classmates, I could not help being reminded of one of the most honest narrators in American Literature: J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield. Like Holden, Matt is immediately likeable because he doesn’t float through life with phony politeness. Matt has no problem with pointing out the bad in people, and Pinscher has plenty of it. Pinscher, who is known for his anti-war activism, is wearing a shirt that says “Support OUR Troops: Bring Them Home. And not in Pieces.” Names of deceased soldiers cover the back of the shirt, and Matt’s brother is one of them. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that starts with more conflict than that.

Most novels can be divided into four categories: man versus man, man versus society, man versus nature, and man versus himself. This is not the case in Personal Effects. Matt is battling a lot of forces in the novel, including society, the people around him, and himself. All Matt wants to do is work through losing his brother, but no one will let him do that. His father doesn’t want to look through T.J.’s things, and no one will even talk to him about T.J. anymore. No one will let him grieve. When Matt uncovers a life that T.J. never told him about, he just might find someone he can grieve with, even if it’s not at all whom he expected.

In addition, Matt’s relationship with Shauna is a subplot of the novel that I really enjoyed. Matt and Shauna have been friends since childhood. Naturally, Matt has had a crush on her since he stopped thinking girls had cooties, but he thinks she is totally unattainable. Shauna is such a strong character. She is beautiful, doesn’t put up with anything from anyone, and knows what she wants. I could not get enough of her.

Although this novel might just have too many similarities to The Catcher in the Rye (Harley was just a combination of Sunny and Maurice), I thoroughly enjoyed Personal Effects by E. M. Kokie. It is a literary novel with a gripping plot and excellent characterization. I can promise you that you will not regret reading it.


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