By E. M. Kokie
Available now from Candlewick
Seventeen-year-old Matt Foster is on the cusp of graduating from high school. He's not getting into state school, and his father is pushing him to enlist. But his older brother asked him to stay out of the army shortly before he died in Iraq. Matt's angry and confused and the only thing he knows for sure is that he wants to go through his brother's personal effects.
Then he gets his chance and discovers a set of love letters revealing that his brother was in a serious relationship for years. And there's one still sealed - the one his brother never sent. Matt borrows his best friend Shauna's car to deliver the letter and discovers he knew even less about his brother than he thought. (And he might not know as much about Shauna as he thought either.)
E. M. Kokie's debut is raw, not in the sense of lacking polish, but in the emotions on display. There's grief, love, anger, all bound up in the personal and the political. Matt wants to figure out who he is and part of that is knowing who his brother was. Their mother went a little nuts before her death and their father is abusive, so T.J. was Matt's closest and most positive familial relationship.
I highly recommend PERSONAL EFFECTS. It's timely and compelling, and the sort of book that will appeal to both boys and girls. It's never didactic, but allows for opposing views on a variety of relevant controversial subjects. Compassion is never forgotten. Matt's voice and story lingered in my head for days after finishing PERSONAL EFFECTS. Kokie displays some powerful storytelling abilities and I look forward to reading whatever she writes next.
(Also, Candlewick? Publishing PERSONAL EFFECTS on Sept. 11? I see what you did there and I like it.)