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ARC Review: While He Was Away

my thoughts in a few sentences: An overall disappointment, While He Was Away by Karen Schreck left me aching for something more after all that wasted pent-up excitement. The story is so… forgettable, though, that the lingering dissatisfaction faded into obscurity and from my memory quickly.

hooking first line: "I won't let the Oklahoma wind whip our words away."

Sourcebooks Fire • NetGalley • Contemporary Romance • 5/1/12 • $8.97

While He Was Away by Karen Schreck
"This is just something I have to do, okay?" I hear David say. "The right thing."

He cradles my face in his hands. He kisses me hard. Then he lets go of me. His eyes dart from me to whatever's next.

All she wants is for him to stay. She's been doing pretty well, pretending he doesn't have to go. But one day, after one last night to remember, she wakes up and there's no denying it anymore. He's gone.

When Penna Weaver's boyfriend goes off to Iraq, she's left facing life without him. As summer sets in, Penna tries to distract herself with work and her art, but the not knowing is slowly driving her crazy. Especially when David stops writing.

She knows in her heart he will come home. But will he be the same boy she fell in love with?
I was so excited for THIS book

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.

Rating: Eye-Catcher
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Got something specific in mind? Dare I believe I might NOT have covered something you wish to know? If so, let me know down in the comments section. Don't be shy!


April Books & Wine said...

I was disappointed by the ending as well. And the book is kind of boring, like it's quiet but without that deep meaning and contemplation I like with my quiet reads, if that makes sense. I liked when Penna started to do things besides mope, but yeah, like you said BLAH!

Sophie said...

So surprised that it wasn't what I first thought! It honestly seemed like such a sweet read. What a disappointment :(

Michelle Chew said...

Thanks for the honest review! It was kind of surprising because I thought it would be a good read but seeing some of the reviews... I'll just wait to see if my library will have a copy. :) Thanks again!

oodlesofbooks said...

Aww, too bad this one didn't work out for you :/ I might pick it up, but probably not. Thanks for the honest review!

Vivianamott said...

My teen daughter just finished reading (and really enjoyed!) an eBook called Hear by Jacqueline Abelson. Great plot, interesting characters and a real message of self– empowerment. Here’s the link:


Asher Knight said...

 Yes, it was very.. boring. Not much happens and it's just not engaging.

Asher Knight said...

 Me TOO. I was so hoping for a fab military book and that's why I started with this one first before Something Like Normal. *sigh sigh* Try it out the library and don't be shy about letting me know what you think.

Asher Knight said...

 RIIIGHT? I was expecting so much awesomeness and it really was disappointing.

Asher Knight said...

 I was like, WHAT THE WHAT? I couldn't believe that THAT'S how Schreck chose to wrap things up. It wasn't satisfying at all, and AFTER I'D STUCK THROUGH ALL THAT. It was so quiet, dull and I kept waiting for something magical to take over.

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