It seems like the new trend in contemporary YA is to focus on the military, which to be honest, I find really cool. With Iraq and Afghanistan, lots of young adults are signing up for the military today and I think this crop of books really will speak to the experience of those people and those associated with them. While He Was Away by Karen Schrek is the first and definitely not the last military contemporary YA that I have read.
The plot of While He Was Away focuses on two characters – Penna and her boyfriend David. When David is deployed, Penna must learn to live without him and get her own life rather than focus one hundred percent on David. To be honest, for the beginning of the book she pretty much mopes around, eventually though she partakes in various experiences and makes new friends to adjust. PLUS she uncovers family secrets!
To be frank with you, I thought Penna was super bland in the beginning of While He Was Away. Like, her defining characteristics are that she is artsy and about to be a senior in high school. When she moves beyond her angst and into connecting with her estranged grandmother, Justine, she becomes a lot more interesting. I think David will appeal to some people because he is sensitive, artsy and kind.
I think that a lot of military girlfriends will be able to relate to what Penna is going through with David. It seems like her fears of losing David are pretty common. Plus, she is a bit isolated at first with her strict focus on her boyfriend. We see how things like Skype chats mean everything. And, also, how long distance relationships really kind of suck.
However, I never fully connected with Penna. I don’t have much in common with her. She doesn’t have very good family relationships. She has no friends. She moves around a lot. None of my life experience relates to her. However, it was interesting to read about someone so different from me.
I did find parts of While He Was Away to be kind of repetitive. For example there was a lot about how Penna needed to write David cheery and upbeat emails and letters as well as send packages. I felt I got that point the first time it was made and didn’t need to read about it over and over.
While He Was Away is a relatively quick read. I mean, my intention was to read it while flying, but instead I whipped through it in the airport while waiting for my flight. The ending is sort of ambiguous, I would have liked a clearer resolution. In all, While He Was Away by Karen Schrek wasn’t a bad introduction to contemporary military and a quiet sort of read. I’d recommend it if you are the sort of reader who likes a more subdued as opposed to in your face sort of read.
Disclosure: Received for review via Netgalley.
Other reviews of While He Was Away by Karen Schrek:
Bloggers Heart Books – “wasn’t a stand out for me”
Gone With The Words – ” leaves you with a feeling of hope.”
Emilie’s Book World – ” a touching and moving story”