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Personal Effects

Review

Personal Effects

Enter into the broken and abnormal world of Matt Foster, a high school junior who spends his time failing to meet expectations. In her novel PERSONAL EFFECTS, E.M. Kokie introduces Matt and his immediate associates by detailing each way that Matt does not satisfy his closest relationships. Meet Shauna, Matt's best girl friend, to whom Matt can never provide enough support. Matt's abusive father (called Dad) is constantly disgusted by his son's weakness, and does not deem Matt man enough to join the military.

The military itself is a huge threat looming over Matt's head --- when he was born, his parents decided he would follow his father’s footsteps and enlist, but Matt is not convinced that he wants the life of a soldier. To complicate affairs, T.J., Matt's deceased older brother who died in Army combat, is continually referenced by Matt's father as the hero to whom Matt must compare.

E.M. Kokie remained true to the emotions that follow a familial death, especially when a relative has died in the military

All of these pressures perpetually grate on Matt, but no standards are as destructive as those that Matt places on himself. Matt (greatly influenced by his father) denies himself the ability to express grief over T.J.'s death out of fear that pain would mark him pusillanimous, so his repressed emotions overwhelm and threaten to break him. When T.J.'s personal effects are delivered to Matt's house, he finds items that reveal T.J. to have been different from the older brother Matt always considered him, and Matt decides that he must go on a journey to discover who his brother truly was. As Matt's image of T.J. transforms with new discoveries, his conception of the world and himself shifts accordingly.

What I most admired about E.M. Kokie's writing style in PERSONAL EFFECTS was the way sheremained true to the emotions that follow a familial death, especially when a relative has died in the military. She seemed to thoroughly invest herself in character development, and portrayed all of the emotional/personal effects (get the pun?) that death brings. Another highlight of the novel was the "inside" information it provided about military service; it shared aspects of enlisted life and relationships that are little-known or often overlooked. Without revealing too much (because this book contains major surprises), I will say that characteristics of T.J. that Matt brings to light open a huge can of worms about certain military procedural protocols.

On the contrary, my resounding complaint about PERSONAL EFFECTS was that E.M. Kokie writes about a specific type of military life that is abusive and harsh, and marginalizes military fathers into a group of men like The Great Santini. As an extremely patriotic person, I did not appreciate the way the military was portrayed in this novel. I know that in some cases veteran fathers can get out of control in their "tough love" approach to life, but there is a delicate balance between acknowledging the flaws of an organization and completely ignoring its virtuous aspects. I believe Kokie fell just short of achieving this balance, which would have enhanced her full development of the characters she presents.

Reviewed by Cadyn D., Teen Board Member on May 9, 2014

Personal Effects
by E. M. Kokie

  • Publication Date: September 11, 2012
  • Genres: Youth Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • ISBN-10: 0763655279
  • ISBN-13: 9780763655273