I have mixed feelings about this book. Some of my comments have both good and bad elements so I’m going to just list them in random order.
The pacing was a little slow but not unbelievably so.
The book was very funny in places and dramatic in others in a good mix, which I liked.
It was a great setting, a believable boot camp. I didn’t know most of acronyms, though. It would have been nice to have a glossary or explained the words in context. Very few were.
Some stuff seemed farfetched (like a character having sex with a drill sergeant through most of basic training) (medium spoiler)
. This misspelling occurred at least twice in the book. I saw this recently in another book, too. Is this a weird trend?
The biggest problem I had was missing the big dramatic scene. It all happened off page. I felt like an outsider. I was told about it; I didn’t see it. I was told about how hard Ryan took Phillip’s injury, but didn’t see it. At all. We’re told that he calls but he talks to characters off page and we don’t even hear his words. It was a month after the incident before he shows up and by then we only saw a couple paragraphs of the trauma. I wanted to feel it with him. It was extremely distancing. (major spoiler)
The best part was how the book showed PTSD. It was very well handled, not those fake TV scenes where the character is suddenly back in the war and screaming for help and completely not aware of what’s happening around them. I think that is extremely rare if it happens at all, and it probably is accompanied by other mental health issues like schizophrenia or a psychotic break.
All but one of the foster kids I’ve had in my care (I’m a therapeutic foster parents for those kids that have really bad behavioral issues) has been diagnosed with PTSD. Usually the memories just haunt them, and make it difficult to cope with anything. I have seen “episodes” but it’s about the emotions coming back as if they were in that situation, not that they don’t know where they are. For example, one time when “Sally” was very young (3 or 4) she thought she was going to be kidnapped when a guy looking for drugs climbed in through her window.) Ever since, she’s been terribly afraid of being kidnapped. One time she was walking home from the bus and a van went past her and then parked on the street. She panicked and ran the rest of the way. (The people got out of the van and went in a house.) By the time she got home, she couldn’t breathe and was absolutely terrified. She knew who and where she was and what just happened, yet the memories, particularly the feelings, of the previous incident were so vivid she completely lost it. It took me a while to talk her down.
That’s how it’s portrayed in this book and I really loved how it was handled. (If anyone has personal experience with this type of thing I really want to talk to you. One of the characters in my next story has PTSD and my experience has only been with children.)
One nitpick: He’s not doing AA if he’s not trying to stop drinking, just stop drinking my himself. “I’m xxx and it’s been an hour since my last drink” every single time he goes? It’s not okay to drink just because his friends are with him. I know there are people who have trouble stopping and maybe every time they have taken a drink because they’re still struggling, but that’s not how this is explained. (mild spoiler)
Phillip is compared with a 9 foot 200 pound gorilla. Is that a quote from something else? Because that is a very skinny gorilla/man.
Grabowski was an interesting choice. It’s an odd name and an actual term used in Chicago.
The author switched POV between paragraphs sometimes and this got worse as the story progressed.
Characters saw things they couldn’t see. For example, Ryan notices clearly that Grabowski stopped BEHIND him, but in the next sentence Ryan says Grabowski’s smile is huge.
I don’t like huge time gaps. If Phillip was really in love with Ryan, so much so that he was telling his own family, would he wait five years to say anything? I don’t think so. (big spoiler)
Ryan is supposed to be amazing, has great potential allegedly, but I don’t see it. He’s the worst in his group at shooting by a lot. (One guy got two fewer points but his weapon jammed.) And he’s average in most things except hand to hand. Ryan. Phillip even says he kept fucking up. Ryan was made some kind of group leader but I didn’t see anything of that and have no idea what it was.
Way too many of men are gay: two of three drill sergeants for example? (medium spoiler) At least there wasn’t any GFY.
There were some mildly confusing time issues. For example, they went on this really long journey, the last leg of which was 15 miles
, and then hiked back. The next paragraph is the next chapter where the first lines say they slept for 12 hours after their big hike thing. It definitely sounds like a continuation with the other text around it. Then it says that after the 15 kilometer
hike, they were sent to sleep like babies for a change, the drill sergeants having taken pity on them. During the trek, there were three weeks to go (which was odd because a bunch of stuff before that was three weeks to go) and suddenly there are only two weeks ago. (mild spoiler)
Ryan’s upset when Phillip is assigned to his unit. He lusted after him all that time, five years, and they were the same rank, so what was the problem? (moderate spoiler)
In the beginning, the author says that this takes place in a world where gays and lesbians are treated equally. Well, that’s not quite true. People are definitely not tolerated; there is still homophobia, although not as bad. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had been rescinded. It wasn’t that it never existed. Marriage equality exists but it isn’t clear which state.
One of them has an erection and then pees easily. I find that quite hard to believe, not to mention messy.
What’s with the Stetsons? I do not even get why they wore Stetsons with their dress blues. Is this a real thing? If not, it’s ridiculous.
Sentences along the lines of “the older man would blah blah the younger one,” were quite odd. The two men were only three years different in age. Very jarring.
The characters are too similar. Each is described as being a certain way, having a specific personality that is definitely separate and distinct, but it’s told not shown. I don’t see it at all. All the men act the same including how they talk and joke around. The women are all the same as one another BUT they are wonderful. It’s nice to see a book in this genre where the women are interesting, strong, and intelligent.
Not sure if it’s intentional but two main characters are Meg and Ryan.
Really great women. Everyone is wonderful except Ryan’s evil parents. The situation with the mom in particular is a bit odd and difficult to believe. (mild spoiler)
“I love you” is not said enough in the story from anyone. It especially takes too long for Phillip to say it when he was the one who pined after Ryan for years. Phillip was being a dick in that regard. (big spoiler)
The sections where they’re all emailing one another are very funny. One of my favorites is That section with the email accidentally being sent to the wrong people, about what one of the characters is going to do to another sexually, was incredibly realistic and hilarious. That’s exactly how my friends would react. (mild spoiler)
It’s almost an inside joke how Alexander knows his wife gets off on gay sex, and he wants them to do stuff to turn her on so he gets laid. Considering the proportions of us writers and readers of this genre who are women, it was very funny.
The scene with army wives (strangers one character overhears) was ridiculous:
“They send our men over there and turn them into monsters!”
“I know! And they expect US to make them all better. Larry damn near tried to strangle me in his sleep!”
“We should write the president! This has got to stop. What if he comes home and tries to kill our kids?”
If they felt that way about their men, they can just leave, not expect the president to fix it. It makes no sense. This sounds like a caricature of how people not part of the military feel. I felt like the author was trying to prove a point and shoved it in my face. If the wives feel they can’t leave, there are resources for them. Also, it’s the military, they can talk to commanding officers and the men can be forced to get therapy. I’m not saying this would necessarily be easy and sometimes it wouldn’t work. It depends on the officers. But they could at least try.
This is not at all the way army wives are shown on the news, or in documentaries, or on reality shows (yes, I know, those aren’t realistic). Being back home is nothing like being out on the front lines but it’s very hard and their flippant attitudes just don’t ring true. Sometimes it’s easier to put your own life at risk where you feel you have control then hang back and just wait for that knock on your door. The anxiety, the loneliness, single parenting, the constant state of tension are all extremely hard to deal with. I believe the women would have problems and be scared, but this conversation is just absurd.
I love the epilogue with the young woman at boot camp (a woman! Yea!) and Ryan is the scary drill seargeant. (major spoiler)
3.5 stars. I want to round down because I’m so mad about being left out of that emotional scene, but the PTSD was great and I really enjoyed the book. So I’m rounding up.