When the six-year-old narrator of this lyric novel watches her father march off to serve a year in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, a year seems like a very long time. A year is a long time when you’re waiting for letters, waiting for word. A year is almost forever when you’re wondering . . .and forgetting. Maria Testa has written a taut and tender American ballad of one family’s experience in the year 1968 — an ultimately heartening novel that has much to say to a new generation of readers.
This book feels like a missed opportunity, particularly after having read All the Broken Pieces and Inside Out and Back Again, both verse novels which take place during this time period. Testa's narrator places her book at a disadvantage; her young age limits the emotions she can express and her understanding of the situation. At age six, she is not taking the emotional pulse of her family members, to the detriment of the reading experience.
Another issue is that the writing isn't beautiful enough. When I'm reading a book written in free verse, I always look for phrases that resonate with me, but Almost Forever really didn't have any. Take, for example, the following words, "I never cared much about the mail before, never cared much about the envelopes and packages that were never meant for me." Sounds like a normal sentence, right? Well, Testa spaces these words out on different lines and considers it poetic. Looking back through the book, most of the writing breaks down similarly.
The book is not without its redeeming qualities. The broadness of the writing makes it easy to discuss in the context of current events. The publishers clearly felt the same, updating the cover from the version I read to a more modern cover with the father in the fatigues of today. It would be interesting to discuss how life is different for kids whose parents are currently deployed, as opposed to Testa's characters. It may inspire young readers to write their own verse poetry.