Ben Bright is the star of his senior class in high school – a good student, the lead role in his high school play, and a longtime girlfriend named Ariela whom he plans to marry. All of his friends are going away to college next year, but Ben has other plans. He enlists in the army, much to his family and friends’ dismay. His parents don’t understand, his best friend, Niko, is angry with him, and Ariela is afraid he won’t come back. Ben explains to them that he feels a deep need to give back and help support and protect his country, and he reassures them that he won’t be going overseas.
Those who care about him reluctantly support Ben, but things change and he is sent overseas, to Iraq. The phone call they have all been dreading finally comes: Ben has suffered a severe brain trauma in an explosion, and doctors are unsure what his prognosis might be.
The rest of the novel follows both Ben and his family and friends as they all try to support Ben with his new challenges, as he slowly recovers in the hospital. He doesn’t remember any of them nor his old life nor even who he is. Ben’s journey back to life is a slow and tedious one, and his friends and family members each react differently, as he struggles with his daily challenges.
This is a very brief novel – only 148 pages – about an important topic that is rarely covered in teen/YA fiction, young people in the military and the long road to recovery for those with brain injuries. I liked that this book showed all sides of a complicated issue: readers see Ben’s determination to do the right thing and support his country but also the crazy randomness of violence in war and the difficulties for soldiers returning home injured or incomplete.
Ironically, I chose to read this novel now because I was looking for something brief, but it felt a bit too brief to me. I wished there was a little more. I think that tells you something about the story. It was well told and compelling, with very realistic characters that I came to care about. I’m glad I read it, and I still think about it.