Personal Effects

Overview

After his older brother dies in Iraq, Matt makes a discovery that rocks his beliefs about strength, bravery, and honor in this page-turning debut.

Ever since his brother, T.J., was killed in Iraq, Matt feels like he’s been sleepwalking through life — failing classes, getting into fights, and avoiding his dad’s lectures about following in his brother’s footsteps. T.J.’s gone, but Matt can’t shake the feeling that if only he could get his hands on his brother’s stuff from Iraq, ...

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Personal Effects

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Overview

After his older brother dies in Iraq, Matt makes a discovery that rocks his beliefs about strength, bravery, and honor in this page-turning debut.

Ever since his brother, T.J., was killed in Iraq, Matt feels like he’s been sleepwalking through life — failing classes, getting into fights, and avoiding his dad’s lectures about following in his brother’s footsteps. T.J.’s gone, but Matt can’t shake the feeling that if only he could get his hands on his brother’s stuff from Iraq, he’d be able to make sense of his death. But as Matt searches for answers about T.J.’s death, he faces a shocking revelation about T.J.’s life that suggests he may not have known T.J. as well as he thought. What he learns challenges him to stand up to his father, honor his brother’s memory, and take charge of his own life. With compassion, humor, and a compelling narrative voice, E. M. Kokie explores grief, social mores, and self-discovery in a provocative first novel.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
PERSONAL EFFECTS is one of the best novels I've read in a long time—it's complex, moving, and beautifully written. I want everyone I love to read this book.
—Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award Finalist, Coretta Scott King Award winner, and Newbery Honor winner

With a pen dipped in adrenaline, E.M. Kokie tells a harrowing story of profound grief and powerful honesty. Read it immediately.
—Ellen Wittlinger, author of the Michael L. Printz Honor winner Hard Love

PERSONAL EFFECTS is a courageous book about the anger and pain of loss. But most of all, it is about different kinds of love.
—Francisco X. Stork, author of Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

Timely, passionate, and political, PERSONAL EFFECTS is a story that needs to be told. Heartbreaking and heart-opening at the same time.
—James Howe, author of The Misfits and Totally Joe

The devastating power of secrets and grief are perfectly captured in Matt's journey to finding the truth about his brother—and ultimately, himself.
—Jo Knowles, author of Jumping Off Swings and See You at Harry’s

PERSONAL EFFECTS is a smart, rugged, hugely insightful book that elevates an already soaring genre. E.M. Kokie glides along that fine line between comedy and tragedy to tell a sensational story.
—Chris Crutcher, a Margaret A. Edwards Award-winning author

Writing with grace and subtlety, Kokie depicts Matt's emotions as he uncovers the details of T.J's hidden life. Through raw moments and strikingly mature characterizations, Kokie explores loss, personal relationships, and the burden of preconceptions.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

In an outstanding debut, Kokie tackles the tumultuous aftermath of a soldier's death, as seen through the eyes of a sibling left behind. Ever since 17-year-old Matt Foster's older brother, T.J., died in Iraq, Matt has been enraged-especially with anyone who criticizes the war or his brother's role in it-and he doesn't hesitate to express himself with his fists. Meanwhile, his authoritative and physically intimidating ex-military father seems determined to erase every sign of his deceased son's presence. When Matt gets his hands on some of T.J.'s possessions, he discovers that T.J. had a life he never knew about, complete with girlfriend and potential child. Risking his father's wrath, Matt borrows a car and takes an impromptu road trip, hoping to reconnect with his brother's memory. Writing with grace and subtlety, Kokie depicts Matt's emotions as he uncovers the details of T.J's hidden life. Through raw moments and strikingly mature characterizations, Kokie explores loss, personal relationships, and the burden of preconceptions. Ages 14-up. Agent: Chris Richman, Upstart Crow Literary.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

ALAN Review - Barbara A. Ward
Reeling from his older brother T.J.'s death during the Iraq war, seventeen-year-old Matt Foster happens upon passionate letters and photographs that offer clues to his brother's secret life. Matt becomes convinced that he must follow their lead to Wisconsin where he might make sense of T.J.'s death and meet a child possibly fathered by T.J. Borrowing a car from his best friend Shauna and putting their budding romantic relationship on hold, he leaves Pennsylvania looking for answers and to deliver an unopened letter from T.J. Once he reaches Madison, what he finds is not what he had imagined, and readers' hearts will ache for what might have been. This is an important story, another aspect of the consequences of war and of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that encouraged dishonesty. Told with grace and empathy by a skillful novice author, this title lingers in a reader's mind and steeps us in loss mingled with possibilities. Reviewer: Barbara A. Ward
Children's Literature - Elizabeth D. Schafer
Collateral damages inflicted by war confront Matt Foster, age seventeen, who is devastated when his brother T.J. is killed while serving in Iraq. The narrative immerses readers into Matt's anguish several months after T.J.'s death. Aching from his loss, Matt is overwhelmed and angered by life in his Pennsylvania hometown. He endures his cruel father and misses his mother, who abruptly abandoned her family and died. Matt mourns those deaths alone, becoming depressed. Traumatized Matt snaps one day at school when a pacifist classmate provokes him by wearing a t-shirt listing area war casualties including T.J.'s name. Suspended after he assaults that boy, Matt feels hopeless because his poor grades threaten academic failure and his father pressures him to enlist for military service. Matt thinks T.J.'s wartime possessions will aid his healing, but letters signed C and photographs of a female soldier and toddler agitate him with potential truths they might reveal about T.J. Seeking answers, Matt travels to the Madison, Wisconsin address on the letters. He discovers T.J. concealed details of his life and assesses how to perceive and accept shocking realizations. The narrative convincingly depicts Matt's vulnerability, furor, and despair as he seeks to comprehend realities of his brother's life and to survive psychological and social challenges. Readers feel Matt's pain and confusion as he strives to cling to everything associated with his brother. The male viewpoint regarding dealing with tragedy is intensely explored, providing readers glimpses of Matt's intimate thoughts and reactions to his hostile surroundings. Some characters' crude behavior and reliance on speaking with expletives aid authenticity and emphasize Matt's suffering and struggling to communicate his rage. Pair with Bobbie Ann Mason's In Country (1985). Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up—In this gripping debut novel that doesn't pull punches, Matt, 17, is still reeling from the death of his brother, T.J., who was killed while serving in Iraq. He's getting into fights at school, his grades are falling, and he's becoming distant with his friend and crush, Shauna. When three trunks of T.J.'s belongings arrive on his doorstep, Matt discovers his brother's long-time relationship with Celia Carson by reading through stacks of letters. At the bottom of the trunk, still sealed and addressed in T.J.'s handwriting, is the last letter his brother wrote to Celia, but never got to send. An impromptu road trip from Pennsylvania to hand deliver the letter sounds like a great escape from final exams and his volatile and violent father. However, in Wisconsin, Matt discovers a side to his brother he never knew: T.J. was gay and had a long-term relationship with Celia's brother. Could this be the incentive Matt needs to break away from his father's blind insistence that he pursue a future in the military? Kokie beautifully crafts a story about the troubled relationships between an emotionally stunted father and his two sons. Both T.J. and Matt are forced to deal with their own pain in secret. A strong choice for reluctant readers and lovers of realistic fiction alike.—Richelle Roth, Boone County Public Library, KY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763669362
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 5/13/2014
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,023,034
  • Age range: 14 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

E. M. Kokie is an attorney, but has long had a strong interest in literature for teens. Personal Effects is her first novel. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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