I don’t very often read books related to military service. It’s just one of those things, the unexplainable things that YOU WISH YOU COULD explain to other people. While He Was Away by Karen Schreck, however, is one of those reads that gets you really amped for a particular trend. I came into While He Was Away by Karen Schreck with so much excitement and anticipation and, sadly, it didn’t live up to all the hype that kept bombarding me. Even my writing this review is very difficult because my emotions toward this book are so stunted, low, and unexciting. I could see the potential, but nothing particularly interesting happened.
While He Was Away by Karen Schreck starts out alright enough, introducing to us an ordinary boy and girl, obviously deep in first love. They’ve been together awhile and now the thing Penelope dreads is about to arrive: David is to leave off to Iraq the next day. Their separation will be fifteen plus months long. The moments leading up to their separation are bittersweet and nice, touched by hints of regret and unspoken sentiments, and the writing is sort of poetic to offset everything. These are some nice times, peeps, where everything is full of happy-sads and the two want to cling to each other, but both understand that this is something David has to/wants to do. I got all that. I even enjoyed it.
It’s everything that happens afterward that shoots the book down.
~Are these characters supposed to be intriguing?~
Penna/Penelope starts off reading as average then goes down to inconsequential, and, frankly, pretty irritating. She’s sullen and depressed now that David is leaving, and once he does, she has nothing left to live for. I sympathize with her—somewhat. Then she begins treating and regarding people as insignificant and uses them as her verbal punching bags at times, which just succeeded in making her sound whiny and spiteful as opposed to in-need-of-sympathy.
Out of her newfound friends, Ravi has some potential. But, by the time the story flows into the plot, I was too bored to really care about even him. I couldn’t tell you if he turned out to be more than the painfully stereotyped, really-bullied high school drop-out who is upset that his ex-friend David has left him with regrets about their distance. I was too busy skimming the pages waiting for something thrilling to happen.
~The BLAH plot~
Penna now has a summer free, which is basically spent desperately awaiting contact from David, trying to locate her estranged grandmother who happened to have gone through a similar situation to Penna’s current one, and hanging out with her new besties from the summer job her mother pins on her. None of which kept me engrossed in While He Was Away by Karen Schreck, unfortunately.
About the only thing that is mildly fascinating in the story are David’s accounts of his times over in Iraq and his and Penna’s shared love and talent for art. I liked David’s vivid tales of his days spent in training, routine, assignments, exploring, his visits with the po’ Iraqi children. I found myself growing eager to get to his sections of the book. His and Penna’s drawings and photo-swapping got the interest flowing some too. But, after a while, it lost the hold I needed to keep me firmly absorbed.
~The “Whatevs” ending~
While He Was Away by Karen Schreck settles into an ending that is surprisingly unexpected, at least for me—others may be totally unsurprised—because I was clueless to any of the signs. I didn’t get the significance of it, there is little impact. I only felt a quiet annoyance toward the turn of events because I felt like after all that time spent, a vague ending was completely undeserved.
When I actually finished While He Was Away by Karen Schreck, I questioned why I refused to DNF this book. My reading pace was sluggish at best, my interest level was hitting way below subzero, and my disappointment spiraled up as I kept reading. It might have to do with While He Was Away by Karen Schreck not being a terrible book. It’s written simply with a nice poetic element to it. The problem rests in that the remainder of the book is too simple for my tastes. There isn’t enough going on to have kept me compelled and riveted.
If you have the patience and the taste for a simple contemporary that doesn’t quite hit an emotional level—although, at times, it does feel as if the attempts are a tad overzealous and unnecessary—then While He Was Away by Karen Schreck would be a soft, mediocre summer read to pass the time.
Looking for something similar? Check out Something Like Normal by Trish Doller.
Originally posted at Paranormal Indulgence, 5/25/12