Rachel’s father, a member of the National Guard, has been injured in Iraq. The family must prepare for the big changes living with an amputee with traumatic brain injury will bring.
Rachel is 13, but her father’s condition makes her wise beyond her years, and her achingly honest voice is what made this novel for me. She’s upset about the changes to her life – how friends no longer know what to say so they drift away, how the strong dad she used to know is a shadow of his former self, and how her mother now has a hard edge to her – and she expresses her frustration. But she’s also supportive and understanding in a way most 13 year olds really aren’t.
Here’s a passage from right after Rachel’s mother tells her that her father is coming home:
“I didn’t blame her for not knowing what to say. I felt sorry for her. Kids, I think, have a lot more reason to feel sorry for adults than adults have to feel sorry for kids. I know that sounds backwards. I know that’s not how most people would see it. But here’s the thing: kids know what they know. And that’s it. Adults know all the things they don’t know, all the questions and doubts and puzzles and darkness. Kids are all sealed up with the little bit they know. Adults, though, are leaking out all over the place, with everything they don’t understand but think they should.” (p 23 ARC, may vary from final published version).
I also really liked the family dynamic as seen from Rachel’s point of view, and how she realizes that her dad, even though he’s still her dad, doesn’t really fit in her family anymore. Rachel even muses that in many ways, her life would be easier if her father had died – that people would be better able to deal with that and wouldn’t feel like they needed so much distance. It’s heartbreaking.
This would make a great read for children of injured veterans, and really for their classmates too. Unfortunately, I can’t really see tweens gravitating towards such a serious premise – it seems too much like what you’d find on the dreaded required reading list. That’s why I think Ginny Rorby, author of Penguin’s upcoming THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE (May 13, 2010), may be more successful with what is a similar topic (teen dealing with an amputee Iraq vet father) because she’s packaged it with the irresistible hook of caring for horses.
BACK HOME is available now in hardcover. Find out more about it on the author’s website.