This young adult novel contains the best account of PTSD I have read in any novel, whether for teens or adults.
Nineteen-year-old Josh Marshall is a “wounded warrior” in both the physical and mental sense. When he returns home to Creek View in Central California after a stint in Afghanistan where he lost a leg and his best friend, he resumes work at the Paradise Motel, a seedy place that becomes more of a home than his “real” home.
Skylar Evans, seventeen, also works at the motel, where she mostly spends time making art collages and dreaming about escaping Creek View to study art at San Francisco State in the fall. But her less-than-functional mother lost her job and stays in bed all day, and Skylar sees her dreams going up in smoke.
Both of them had been so desperate to escape Creek View (just a trailer park, a few run-down houses, and a couple of businesses). At Josh’s welcome-home party, Skylar observed:
“Pot and cigarette smoke hovered above the party, covering the wasted youth of Creek View with a thick, pungent haze. It was like the whole town was swimming in failure, but no one realized they were drowning.”
But when Josh and Skylar start hanging out together more at the motel, they change their perception that “this was not the California of people’s dreams.” It wasn’t easy though. Josh has severe PTSD and depression. At one point he thinks:
“Before we shipped out, I thought it was so cool that I was going to war. Felt like a bad motherfucker. Then I saw our first guy go down and it wasn’t so cool anymore. I’d wish them back, man, I say. You nod as you pack some more chew. I’d wish all of them back. Now I look at the pills lined up on my desk and my empty room and my metal leg. The moon’s not big enough to wish on. Nothing is.”
In his therapy group, he muses:
“We sit in a circle, young old men. Look into our eyes and you can see the war, how even though we’re home we never left.”
For Skylar, it’s frustrating:
“Hanging out with Josh was like learning how to drive stick. It was hard enough just to start and then it was one stall after another. But somehow I always managed to crawl forward, just a little bit.”
But as they grow closer, it’s more and more important for her to keep trying:
“I ran my fingers along the raised letters on the dog tags that spelled out all the pertinent information the military needed about Josh. But the important stuff – how he watched out for me, how good he was at chess, the way he always hit his knee when he laughed – they weren’t the sort of things you could stamp onto a thin piece of metal.”
Her art gives her perspective as well:
“If you could make a beautiful piece of art from discarded newspapers and old matchbooks, then it meant that everything had potential. And maybe people were like collages – no matter how broken or useless we felt, we were an essential part of the whole. We mattered.”
Eventually, Josh decides he needs to figure out why he has to live, and how it might be possible to move on, which is where the title (and the Rumi poem with which the author begins the book) come into play. And Sky discovers that Creek View can feel like home, after all.
Discussion: This book is excellent. The author did a great deal of research on veterans and on PTSD and integrated it flawlessly into a very good story. She cites a number of sources in her Afterword (most germane to this story, perhaps is the book Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel in which he writes: “The truth of war is that it’s always about loving the guy next to you, the truth of the after-war is that you’re on your own.”)
She also addresses the high rate of suicide among veterans. As the Active Heroes website records:
Veterans are committing suicide in these high numbers attributed to triggering points:
• Survivor’s guilt
• Self-blame for mission failure
• Impaired thinking caused by alcohol or substance abuse
• An Altered worldview due to post-traumatic stress
• Traumatic brain injury.
For those interested in the plight of veterans, I strongly suggest – in addition to this book (which is also a warm love story) – this video – one of the most moving I have ever seen, in which a widow addresses the PTSD that led to the suicide of her beloved husband:
Evaluation: This is one book that deserves a wide audience. It is a touching love story, with important social and political messages. Highly recommended!
Published by Henry Holt and Company, 2015