Summer Lovin’ Tour: While He Was Away by Karen Schreck
Summary: Penna and David are the perfect couple. But when David announces that he’s joining the military, Penna is terrified. After David leaves for a year-long period in Iraq, Penna learns to live as an army girlfriend. It’s more challenging than it looks, so luckily she finds a few new people to help her get through David’s absence..
My thoughts: While He Was Away is really eye-opening on the subject of military wives or girlfriends. Karen Schreck acknowledges the awkwardness of the situation—how people speak of the deployed man in past tense, how girlfriends feel like they shouldn’t enjoy themselves because of their soldier—and she gives great hope for those in it. While reading, I couldn’t help but feel confused about the way Penna was acting after David left, but I eventually understood that the possibility of losing a loved one to war can make for dramatics.
Thankfully, While He Was Away doesn’t focus solely on the turmoil of a long-distance relationship. I loved the focus on family, and especially on forgiveness. Penna’s quest to find her estranged grandmother is heartwarming, and it’s also thematically consistent with the soldier-girlfriend relationship. I loved Penna’s grandmother is a character, both in the way she’s first presented (through photographs) and as a present personality. She totally stole the show, in my opinion.
In fact, most of the minor characters were interesting people! I found myself very curious about their unspoken pasts. Schreck alludes to the history of minor characters, but just enough to pique the reader’s interest. The focus of the story is, of course, Penna, but the people who surround her are given just as much attention, which speaks to the idea that a soldier’s wife (or girlfriend, in this case) is very much supported by friends and family.
If you’re a fan of realistic YA, I would recommend While He Was Away. The dialogue is occasionally a bit clunky, but overall the book has an air of authenticity about it. Schreck is very genuine about her subject matter, and doesn’t turn While He Was Away into a fairy tale—instead, she turns it into a subtly hopeful, emotionally moving novel.
For those who like: military, solid side characters, realistic fiction
Source: from publisher for review. Thanks!
Love Can Conquer Any Disaster…Right?
A guest post by Karen Schreck
If you look closely at the cover of While He Was Away, you’ll see that the title of this post also serves as the caption for my novel.
A caption that reminds me of another famous quote:
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
And this one, which I always thought came from that wild novel from the 1970s, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but which, it turns out, is actually an ancient Chinese proverb:
If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.
The only things that separate my book caption from the above quotes is that little . . . and the “Right?”
And that little . . . and the “Right?” make all the difference in the world. At least to me.
That little . . . and the “Right?” keep me from grinding my teeth down to the nubbins.
Because the qualification, the doubt that is laced through the caption of While He Was Away brings up the conflict, the fear, the potential for loss, that most often goes hand-in-hand with . . . not being hand-in-hand with the one you love. Someone, for whatever reason, has to be at a distance, and it sucks, big-time. Maybe your boyfriend or girlfriend didn’t go off to war, as Penna Weaver’s boyfriend, David O’Dell, does in While He Was Away. Maybe your boyfriend or girlfriend just went on a long summer vacation, or to college. But separation of any kind can be a huge challenge. (Don’t you know it?) And it’s not just the quality or beauty or depth of your love that determines how it all plays out. Distance, and the places where we find ourselves when we’re apart, play a huge factor on how things work out. Or don’t.
In While He Was Away, Penna Weaver throws herself into her work and her friendships, into solving a family mystery, into being a citizen of the world in order to deal with her separation from David.
If you’ve ever been in a long distance relationship, how have you dealt with it?