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While He Was Away

While He Was Away

3.1 16
by Karen Schreck

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"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.
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


"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.
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?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"" Karen Schreck pens a poignant and inspiring story of love and war, trials and tribulations, and finding oneself."-Blogger Susan, A Soul Unsung " - A Soul Unsung

""the relationship between Penna and her mom... was complicated and broken at times, but ultimately very powerful."- Zoe" - In The Next Room

""Few books have ever given me so many feelings. "- Evie " - Bookish

"" While He Was Away was a very moving, very well written story, and it sucked me in almost from the beginning."-Kreag" - I Devour Books

""I loved that even though [Penna] felt weak, she made herself be strong"- Kassiah" - Fictionators

""...once I opened the book, I did not want to put it down." - Brandi" - Blkosiner's Book Blog

""Schreck's story will tax and strain your emotions, as well as, consume your attention way after the last page"- The Book Whisperer " - The Book Whisperer

""...a subtly hopeful, emotionally moving novel."- Lauren " - 365 Days of Reading

""I did really enjoy[ed] Karen's writing style and realistic portrayal of a young couple dealing with being apart."- Blogger Jessica, Confessions of a Bookaholic" - Confessions of a Bookaholic

""... a powerful story about coping with change."- Blogger Marcie, To Read or Not To Read " - To Read or Not To Read

""...about everything I could ask for in a book!"- Blogger Lea, LC's Adventures in Library Land " - LC's Adventures in Library Land

""I loved these characters."-Blogger Justin, Justin's Book Blog " - Justin's Book Blog

""It keeps tugging at your heart, and it just doesn't let go."- Blogger Brenna, Esther's Ever After " - Esther's Ever After

""Inspiring, hopeful, and eye-opening...This story is so much more then a boy who leaves a girl for Iraq." Blogger Jena, Shortie Says " - Shortie Says

"Schreck did an amazing job with keeping things interesting." - Emily's Crammed Bookshelf

""a nuanced recounting of love, loyalty, loss, forgiveness and healing across three generations."- Blogger Librisnotes " - Librisnotes

VOYA - Nicole Drago
Exploring a struggle faced by many women today, Schreck chronicles Penna's trials when David volunteers to serve in Iraq. After David departs, Penna works to put herself back together and be a supportive army girlfriend. Through Penna's mother and grandmother, Shreck simultaneously tells a story of an estranged mother and daughter who unwillingly begin to repair their tarnished relationship. With realistic characters and interesting dialogue, While He Was Away is both insightful and tragic. This book is good for teen readers who are interested in the army girlfriend's perspective of the war and quality romantic novels. Reviewer: Nicole Drago, Teen Reviewer
VOYA - Ed Goldberg
Few books touch on the girls soldiers leave behind when deployed. Eighteen-year-old Penna is one of them, when David, her boyfriend of eleven months, is sent to Iraq after enlisting. Her relationship with her mother, Linda, is strained. While in her attic after hearing a noise, Penna trips on a loose floorboard. As she replaces it, she sees a photo and later discovers it is of her estranged grandmother, Justine, taken when Justine was about Penna's age. Linda sees Penna's listlessness after David's departure and forces her to work at her cafe, the Red Clay. There Penna meets Caitlin, who introduces her to Jules, whose boyfriend is also overseas. While He Was Away deals with Penna and David's long-distance relationship and touches on the dramatic changes he undergoes. It describes Penna's desire to connect with her grandmother over Linda's strong objections. Finally, it affirms that Penna's need for a social life in no way denigrates her relationship with David. While He Was Away is a pleasant surprise. While the cover art cries chick-lit, the story has more depth. Schreck's writing style is readable and descriptive. Her story is one worth reading, as it describes the emotions that both Penna and David feel immediately before and during his deployment, as well as those of their respective parents. The parallels between Penna and Justine (Justine's husband was sent to war soon after their marriage) make an interesting sidebar to Penna's story. All in all, this is a satisfying read for teenage girls. Reviewer: Ed Goldberg
Kirkus Reviews
When her boyfriend David leaves for a stint in Iraq, Penna is anxious and devastated, but eventually she finds ways to cope. At first, observing Penna change from a girl totally absorbed in her boy to one who has other concerns, friends and responsibilities is like watching paint dry. But the pace rapidly picks up as both David and Penna become more caught up in their immediate environments. Penna discovers information about a grandmother who has been missing in her life, gets pulled into waiting tables at her mother's restaurant and finds new friends with whom she can share her current life. In Iraq, David struggles with the mind-numbing work of patrols and the terror that interrupts it, and he focuses on an orphanage for Iraqi refugee children as a way to be useful. Strong characterization, the vivid setting of a small Oklahoma town and the clear depiction of present life, with Skype, e-mail and phones with their inadequate promise of instant communication, strengthen the narrative and ground it in the present. Paralleling Penna's story is her discovery of a grandmother who lost her first husband in World War II. The perils of war limn the memories of the women left behind and cast into relief both their devotion and their need to continue to live separate and independent lives. A strong entry in the growing genre of fiction about the Iraq war. (Fiction. 12 & up)
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Penna is determined to be a positive "Army girlfriend" while her boyfriend, David, is stationed in Iraq. Faced with the prospect of a year without him, the 18-year-old is wrought with fear, worry, and loneliness. As relative newcomers to Killdeer, a small Oklahoma town, Penna and her mother have few ties to the community beyond the house and restaurant they inherited from her grandfather. Friendless and alone while her mother works long hours, Penna waits for phone calls from David and begins to uncover some family history in the attic. Her contact with him is infrequent, and instead of spending her time preparing her art portfolio for college, she lies in bed rereading his letters. In an attempt to pry Penna from her depression, her mother hires her as a server at the restaurant. Despite her lack of skills as a waitress, Penna begins to make new friends and a new purpose. As her maturity and self-awareness develop, she connects with her mother as well as her estranged grandmother. She also comes to terms with her separation from David. Teens will devour this title quickly despite some stilted dialogue and one-dimensional characters. The ending is realistic and void of any fairy-tale solutions that might diminish the harsh realities of what soldiers often face.—Lynn Rashid, Marriotts Ridge High School, Marriottsville, MD

Product Details

Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.56(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.73(d)
HL590L (what's this?)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


I won't let the Oklahoma wind whip our words away. They can get lost when David and I fly along like this-him driving his red motorcycle, me holding on tight to him. But tonight, especially tonight, I won't let it happen. Tomorrow is soon enough. Tomorrow is another enforced separation, maybe silence. Only this time it's different. Tomorrow David is really, truly gone.

I lean into the ratcheting wind, into him, and shout, "Say something!"

David's muscled back moves against me. He laughs. I love the sound of his laugh. It's been rare since last March, when he shipped off to OSUT. One Station Unit Training. That's what OSUT stands for. For David and other infantry guys like him, OSUT means basic and advanced individual training slapped into eighteen weeks.

For me, OSUT means Our Separation is Unbelievably Terrible. I never told David this, not in any of our phone conversations during that time. Not at Family Day. Definitely not on the day of his graduation. Positive attitude. That's what I've got to maintain, now that I'm an army girlfriend. At least that's what all the bloggers say. The girls and women in chat rooms. The answers to FAQs on various military-related sites.

Question: What's the best way to help your soldier?

Answer: Keep a positive attitude. Write lots of encouraging letters. Soldiers look forward to daily mail call.

I wrote lots of encouraging letters while David was at OSUT. David, who wrote letters to me all the time before he left-even when we'd already spent an entire day together, did not write at all. No time, he explained. Phone calls would have to be enough. When I saw his schedule, I understood. Still, there were days when I felt bummed about the lack of encouraging mail for me. On those days I'd pull out his old letters. I'd remember finding them slipped into my locker or book bag or mailbox. I'd read them again.

I'd wait forever to get another letter from David.

"‘Say something?'" His voice, echoing mine, is strong against the wind: "Something!"

"You know what I mean!"

But something is better than nothing, so I kiss David's ticklish neck-his brown skin tanned even darker now-until a shudder runs through him and he cries out, "Mercy!"

Now I'm laughing too, laughing like there's no tomorrow. We bank around a sharp curve and bump from two-lane pavement and the outskirts of Killdeer to single-lane, red dirt road and the country. David revs the bike, sending up a cloud of dust. I bury my face in his shoulder to keep from getting an eyeful. My helmet bumps against his shoulder bone. I'm not laughing anymore. Why laugh when I can still breathe him in? Clean, spicy soap. Faint salty tang. And fresh-cut grass, because this afternoon he mowed the yard for his mom and dad. One last time.


When I look up, we've left Killdeer's streetlights far behind. Stars prick the dusky sky. Shapes dart and skitter in the bright headlight-bugs, birds, and bats, trying to clear out of the way. I kiss David's neck again, and we swerve for one wild moment before he swiftly steers us straight.

"Penna! You're distracting me." David casts this over his shoulder like a token. "Stop, or there could be trouble." He flashes his charming, crooked grin and starts singing Elvis Costello's "Accidents Will Happen" at the top of his lungs, all off-key.

"Don't!" With such heat in my voice, I hardly sound like myself. "Accidents-not funny. Or victims. Not now. Not ever."

Immediately I'm filled with regret. That was just the old David, my David, ready to play the fool for love, for me. Now he's fallen silent. He trains his gaze on the road ahead, our tunnel of light in the gathering dark.

"Hey." I sound like myself again, not the kind of girl who wigs out on her boyfriend, not the kind of girl who panics over stupid things. "Sorry. This is crazy-making. You know. Right?"

He doesn't answer.

I lick my lips, gone dry from the wind. Okay. I'll talk about things we used to talk about before OSUT. All our incredible conversations about important things. All our incredible conversations about unimportant things. I should be able to remember something we used to talk about before. I should be able to give us another conversation to remember when we're apart. Never mind if it's just me doing the talking. Right?


Wrong, because tomorrow threatens like an ugly giant just beyond the sunset-orange horizon line. And I can't remember any of our incredible conversations from before. Zero. Zip. Important, unimportant. It doesn't matter. What matters is that in this moment I don't know what to say to David. And David doesn't know what to say to me.

Blackjack oaks flash past, gnarled shapes that anchor the vast fields and the hulking clots there that I know are longhorn cattle. David guns it and we go faster yet. I wrap my arms tighter around his waist. There, where my right elbow presses, is the sickle-shaped scar he showed me the first time we kissed. (Golden September day. Oklahoma City Art Museum. Ditched our class field trip to hang out in the sculpture garden. Tucked into the shadows of a gigantic bronze statue of Geronimo-our first kiss.) David got that scar long before I knew him, when he was just five years old. He was sword-playing with some other kid. Their weapons were sticks. The other kid's stick struck home too hard. David's scar is just the length of my little finger when my little finger bends to a slight curve.

My little finger bends to just the right slight curve now. And there, where my left wrist rests, are the ribs David cracked in eighth grade, playing soccer. I didn't know David then either; I didn't know him when he played soccer like the Tasmanian Devil. That's what he told me once when it was raining, because those ribs still sometimes ache in wet weather.

"When I was a kid, I played soccer like the Tasmanian Devil, totally out of control, always hurting other kids by accident and getting hurt too." That's what he said. (Stormy February day. Baking cookies in his parents' messy kitchen. The sleety rain drummed against the roof and fell in sheets outside the windows. Checking the oven's temperature, he clutched the sudden ache in his ribs.) When I first saw David play soccer last fall, he was totally in control, skimming and darting across the field, scoring goal after goal, finishing out his senior season strong. In his royal-blue varsity uniform, he never hurt anyone and he never got hurt. Never. Never.

And he never will.

Everywhere beneath the length of my arms, David's familiar warmth reassures me. Always, David reassures me. Never mind what we can or can't say, I decide. Never mind deployment. We can hold tight. I tell myself this, holding him tighter. We can hold tight across continents and the oceans in between. We've got the strong arms of love.

"Beauty is truth," I hear myself shout. This kind of stuff-this is what we talked about. Beauty. Truth. Scars. And so much more. Incredible. Never mind the wind, which is getting cooler, almost cold on my skin. David is warm in my arms.

David throws back his head and wolf-whistles twice through his teeth at the bright white fingernail moon. "Beauty is you, Penna."


Something long, low, and lean flashes across the road in front us, and David gasps. We swerve. He gasps again. He lightens up on the throttle, and we slow down, way down. The thing has vanished into the shadows, but David has gone tense. I can practically feel his nerves jumping against my skin. He leans forward, away from me. The cold air passes between us. The wind whips the back of his T-shirt, grips my throat. David leans farther forward. He wants me to loosen my hold.

I loosen my hold.

"Okay?" I ask.

He nods. "Sorry. Just got a little-" He falters.


He shakes his head. Whatever he was going to say, it's been dismissed. "Nothing. Gotta catch my breath. That's all."

I go for the light touch, just enough of a hold to keep me from pitching off the back of the bike, should David decide to gun it again. I peer over his shoulder at the speedometer. We're barely pushing thirty now. Out here in the country, the limit is seventy, and I can't help it: I want it to be months ago, last year again. Him, the senior guy, graduating a semester early. Me, the junior girl, just moved to Killdeer and new to school. I want David to drive away from tomorrow, not toward it. I want him to drive fast.

"I'm wearing my helmet," I say.

But David isn't wearing his. "Don't want any extra weight. Not tonight. I'll be packing it soon enough." That's what he said earlier when I tried to put the helmet on his head.

We ride on, slow and steady, with David silent and watchful. Grassy fields spread around us. Starry sky arcs above. I lift a hand from David, and, what the heck, I reach for the stars. I tell David what I'm doing. He doesn't make me feel like a jerk for being myself, like some guys from my past. He doesn't do worse, like other guys. David loves me.

And he's about to do what he signed up to do, right before I met him.

I reach higher. I will snag a dark but spangled cloak of sky. I will drag it down and drape it over David's shoulders. He will be dressed like a hero. He will be a hero. He will come home from Iraq.

But the stars slip through my fingers, and then the whole sky too.

I wrap my arms lightly around David again.

"Don't go," I whisper.

He doesn't hear, for the wind.


We turn back toward Killdeer, driving slower yet as David takes a last, long look around town. We cruise past the shopping mall. The big department store stands empty now. There's a string of little stores, all but gutted.

David groans.

"Oh great, just great," he calls back to me. "The Piggly Wiggly's gone under too."

We pass the barren supermarket, and I see the darkened sign-that familiar pig in his funny hat. Once the pig shone bright and jolly. Now in the gloom, he sports a menacing leer.

"This whole town is tanking. I'll never get a job." In despair, David leans back against me.

"You've got a job," I remind David. "Fifteen months, you'll be done. I'll be graduated. We'll be out of here. Together."

"And don't forget my leave." David sits up straight again. "Eighteen days. I'll do my best to bring in the New Year with you. Allocations go first to the guys who have, like, pregnant wives. But if I can get the holidays, I will."

"It won't matter when we're together as long as we're together," I say.

We drive past Killdeer High. (One more year. My new mantra.) Beneath the bright streetlights I glimpse our reflection, flickering along the tinted windows of the cafeteria. David got so dark at OSUT, sweating all day in the sun. Compared to him I'm a ghost. I tell him that.

"So haunt me over there. Promise you will." Then, as the bike slows even more, he says, "Hey. It's Ravi. Hey, Ravi!"

I glimpse a tall, broad-shouldered guy with straight, black hair, trudging along a parallel path past the school, hands stuffed deep in the pockets of a gray hooded sweatshirt. That's Ravi, all right. I've seen him around town. And David has told me about him: how when they were young, they were just about the only brown-skinned kids in school. On bad days David got called "spic" and "beaner." Ravi got called "A-rab" and "towelhead."

In spite of the bullying, or maybe because of it, they played by the rules. They did park district sports-David, soccer, and Ravi, basketball. They joined the lily-white Cub Scout troop. They earned badges, went on campouts, entered pinewood derbies. David, always charming and easygoing, became increasingly popular. Ravi, shyer and more intense, hung in there. They were loyal to each other.

Then in fourth grade 9/11 happened, and things got way worse for Ravi. Kids didn't know exactly where his family came from, but they called him "terrorist" anyway. He got beat up all the time. Year after year he kept getting pounded. David tried to protect him. But as time passed, Ravi hung more and more in the shadows. He just wanted everyone to leave him alone-even David. That's how David remembers it anyway.

Junior year, Ravi dropped out of school. David said he'd heard that Ravi was waxing floors over at the Walmart, graveyard shift. I saw Ravi there once late one evening in the parking lot but never said anything.

"Hey, Ravi! Where you been, man?" David yells.

At the sound of David's voice, Ravi glances up. His striking black eyes widen. He waves.

"That dude is so lost. And what's with the sweatshirt on a July night like this?"

David speaks loudly so I can hear. From the way Ravi's expression hardens, I think he probably heard too. David would feel bad about this, so I don't tell him.

David revs the bike. Ravi watches us drive away. I wave. This time Ravi doesn't raise his hand.

"He's probably on his way to work." I rest my chin on David's shoulder. "The Walmart's always so cold. I bet it's freezing in the middle of the night."

It's weird, defending someone I've never even met. But something about Ravi's eyes got to me.

David shrugs. "Man, shoot me if I ever look that desperate. Okay, Penna? People must just think ‘Taliban,' seeing him. They'd probably think that about me too." David shivers. "I'm so over getting hurt."

David could still be talking about Ravi, the bad stuff they endured in grade school. Or he could be talking about soccer, since we're passing the high school's soccer field now. Or he could be talking about OSUT.

Or he could be talking about whatever's next.

I won't think about whatever's next.

I'll think about now, our roundabout ride. David and I know this route like the backs of our hands. We know this route like the life and love lines creasing the palms of our hands. I pressed our hands deep into plaster last week, so we know them really well.

"For keeps," I said when the plaster molds turned out perfect. David agreed.

"When I come back," he said, "we'll add this to your portfolio."

So we know this route like the five-fingered molds we made, which I will fill with honey and flowers soon. Baby's breath for love lines. Purple nettles for life. I'll preserve our hands. Somehow. I'll keep them safe. When David comes home for good, we'll add this to his portfolio too. Scholarship material. Art Institute, here we come, we'll say. We'll clap our honey-hands together. Applause! Cheers! War and high school-over and done! We'll crack our honey-hands open. We're heroes for holding on! We'll spoon honey into steaming cups of tea. We'll swallow ourselves.

Then we'll pick up this roundabout ride where we left off. Country roads. Red dirt. Starry sky. David showed this all to me early last fall, back when we bought Cokes at the Piggly Wiggly for the first time. He showed me Killdeer too, with its moldering, nineteenth-century brick buildings.

"That was a bank once. That was a brothel," David said. "Now they're both just wannabe bed-and-breakfasts, for when Killdeer finally comes into its own again. Ha."

David showed me the oaks, scrub pines, locust trees, red patina bushes, stinging ants and scorpions, brazen sunsets, sulfuric storm clouds, and red clay earth. He showed me abandoned oil rigs. Right here in the center of town by the shuttered train station, David showed me the one rig that's still pumping crude, its derrick seesawing like a giant's teeter-totter. There were tons of rigs here back in the '80s, David said, when oil was busting out all over. Most of those have dried up now, and the towers and pipes have come down.

"But," David told me, "there's still one fat-cat corporation lining its pockets. Some CEO big shot's making some cold, hard cash. Example for us all, I guess."

Even this time of night, that rig is pumping away.


We jounce over the train tracks. By day, girls perfect cartwheels on the iron rails. Boys set out pennies to be flattened. Where are their parents? I'd like to know. That's what I think, seeing those kids.

"My mom would never let me do that," I told David once. This was close to Christmas.

David laughed. "Let you? You're eighteen, Penna. Shake off Linda's clutches."

Then David helped me tie my old Barbie dolls to the bitterly cold train tracks. He cast his shadow over their plastic bodies while I snapped photos before the next freight train thundered through town. One blasted by right after David and I unbound the Barbies, but for once I didn't feel like Linda was hovering, afraid for my life.

I've pretty much shaken off Linda's clutches now. But still, I can't help myself. I glance back, checking, and glimpse my house a block away, sagging like the neglected thing it used to be before Linda and I moved in and tried to spiff it up a bit. Four end-of-the-season azalea bushes, planted by the front steps, that just managed to hang on. A new coat of gray house paint on the front and the back. (Linda says we'll get to the sides next year.)

Linda has left the porch light on. The round ring of the kitchen light glows blue too. Otherwise the place is dark.

I see her then. I catch my breath.

David must feel the change in me-a sitting-up-straight-because he glances back. "She's home already?"

"No." I shake my head until my helmet wobbles. "It's just that old lady who walks our block. I swear this is her third time today, though. Way late for her." I bite my lip, feeling concerned. "Too late for someone her age."

I watch the lady's frail figure grow smaller as we zip away. Like always, she wears a simple dress-it was pale yellow earlier today, so it probably is now too. She clasps her hands at her thin waist. She picks her way over a broken stretch of sidewalk, lifting her feet in their sandals almost as blind people do, searching for the next safe place to set them down. Her ankles are so narrow that any wrong move might snap them in two. She keeps her eyes fixed on the horizon as she did this morning and afternoon when she passed by. And yesterday morning and afternoon. And mornings and afternoons before that, like clockwork. She looks fairly steady on her feet, even this late. I have to give her that.

We turn a corner and the lady's gone. I lean into David again. "Linda's still at Red Earth."

David nods. No real surprise. More and more in the past few months, Linda seems to have shaken me off too. She's always at the old-time saloon she inherited, along with the house, from her dad. I never met him before he died, but I'd heard that he was a mean drunk who ran my mother out of town when she was about my age. At the very, very end of the day, dead, my grandpa made amends as best he could for his actions.

"Unlike some people," Linda likes to say. Linda's not big into trust.

If Linda were home, it would be way past midnight and our whole house would be ablaze. It takes Linda a while to wind down from work. She's wired like that. Plus, for the first time ever, she cares about her job, so she's got this extra buzz thing going on.

"Adrenaline rush," she says. Ultimately, though, she likes to wait up for me. The last of her clutches, I guess. "I like to know where you've been. I like to know where you're going," she says.

When I glare, Linda glares back.

"I'm entitled. We're the only family we've got," she says.

Until this year, that fact didn't bother me. Linda and I didn't need anyone else. We didn't need people who dumped us, ran off on us, or worse.

Now, in those moments when I feel like Linda is suffocating me, I just breathe in the scent of David, lingering on my skin.

I breathe him in.

What will I do when he's gone?

Meet the Author

Karen Schreck once had lunch with the Queen of Holland. There were many forks. Perhaps this inspired her (failed) attempt at waitressing. She lives outside Chicago with her husband and two children. Visit karenschreck.com/blog

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While He Was Away 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Book_WhispererJO More than 1 year ago
Penna and David offer such an incredible and honest romance that will leave readers speechless. It was so sweet seeing such young individuals grow in maturity and love. Then just when happiness presents on the horizon David as enlisted, and departs abruptly. As the story progresses the trials and tribulations that arise seem to change and distant our characters. With each passing day readers will feel there heart breaking slowly but surely. This story took me from the peak of loves blissful peace to the plummet of heartbreaks despair. I was distraught with it’s ending; feeling as though a conclusion was truly lacking. While I still honestly express that I enjoyed this read I have troubles, because some many questions are left unanswered and unresolved. Schreck’s story will tax and strain your emotions, as well as, consume your attention way after the last page.
EverAfterEsther More than 1 year ago
While He Was Away had such a description that instantly stood out to me, and I knew it was one I would want to read once it came out. But I was utterly taken back when I was reading it, because it was so much more moving and striking than I ever thought it would be. Reasons to Read: 1.A sympathetic story: I've never been in either David or Penna's position, so I can't speak for a minute to what they went through as he left for Iraq. I have no idea what that would be like for a couple, but I have to tell you how much my heart bled for the two of them; it was absolute agony as Karen expertly wove her story of David and Penna and their transition to this change. But it was worth it. As Penna questioned the war her boyfriend was fighting in, the nature of love and so much more, I found myself asking the same things along with her. 2.A coming of age story: I really liked that David and Penna were just a bit older than most other YA characters (the story takes place the summer before Penna's senior year begins and just after David has graduated) so they're adults technically, but still very young ones. Penna's struggles with her mother and trying to be supportive for David are perfect indicators of the stage she's at in her own life. I think there's something very endearing about that. 3.A REAL romance story: David and Penna don't live in a fairytale, they live in the real world with very real problems. Their story is one that many couples go through, but isn't as shared as often as it should be. And it's truly heartbreaking to watch it all unfold as you read their story in While He Was Away. All you want is for them to be together, and the aching they feel for each other is so fierce it just radiates off the pages. Yet they are so sweet and caring towards each other, it made my heart melt a little bit for them. THIS is a book couple to root for, and they need that support. My one, tiny, minuscule complaint was that there were times when the plot itself moved along rather slowly. Not too much would be happening, because most of the story revolves around Penna's internal dialogue and personal transformation. Because of that, the story didn't feel as fully fleshed out and revealed as it could have been, which is why I'm hoping to read more about David and Penna to see where they end up (especially with that ending). Just throwing it out there, but I think it would be great to hear some more of their story from David's perspective because I imagine it would be drastically different from Penna's point of view! It's also kind of neat to see the other stories going on as Penna explores life without David, and the other people around her. There's a lot to be told with those stories as well, although I wish a bit more background had been given. This is truly an impeccable story of growing up, and the changes which occur within individuals and in their relationships with those around them. It keeps tugging at your heart, and it just doesn't let go. E-galley received from publisher for blog tour via Net Galley.
Marcie77 More than 1 year ago
While He Was Away by Karen Schreck is an emotional journey of a young girl named, Penna,and her life after she bids her boyfriend, bound for Iraq, goodbye. Penna and her mom have moved from place to place until they settled into her estranged parents house. It was love at first sight for Penna and David. They fell in love over art. David is Penna's world. However before David met Penna he signed up with the National Reserves. The story begins after he comes back from basic training. Penna tries so hard to be everything that David would need. However it's after David leaves where the story really begins. Even though Penna is in high school her feelings for David are intense.It's as if they are connected. After David leaves she falls into a sort of depression. Her mother anxious to get Penna out of the house gives her a job at their family restaurant. However the summer has more to offer Penna than just a job and missing her boyfriend. She finds an old picture of her grandmother who left Penna's mom when she was just a girl. Penna feels an instant connection to this woman she's never met. This is a powerful story about coping with change. Penna and David are changed by their circumstances and experiences. The book is an emotional roller coaster. The author really gives you a sense of the emotions that Penna experiences throughout this novel. Schreck gives a good account at what it must be like to have a loved one in the military. She also focuses on the strength that friends and family can give. As well as the power of forgiveness and letting go. This is a highly enjoyable book that will bring tears to your eyes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, up until the ending. The ending was cut off, almost as if it was the end of a chapter. I hope Karen Schreck writes a sequel to While He Was Away, so I know the endng of the story. It did not wrap up the story, and it felt like the author became bored with the book she was writing and decided to abruptly end it. Overall, the book was great, except for the lack of a proper ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I feel like it just cut off the end of the book. What happened later??? It felt like it was dragged out and then no more from David.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Confusing ending. i am left with many unanswered questions
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Catie22 More than 1 year ago
There are few things more difficult than watching someone you care about go off to war. If that person is your first love, it's even worse. While He Was Away tells the story of Penna, a girl who is trying to find herself while her boyfriend is fighting half a world away. Along this road to self-discovery she finds the true meaning of friends, family and loving yourself. I won While He Was Away in a giveaway a couple of months ago and couldn't wait to read it. I'm so happy I did. I don't read a ton of contemporaries because they can tend to be a bit depressing and schmultzy but While He Was Away just seemed real. It had all of the drama and uncertainty of a high school relationship mixed with the very adult world of the soldier and the girl he leaves behind. This is a very special book and I really enjoyed it. LIKES: Non-Political: One of the most controversial and polarizing issues of our time is the Iraq War. Everyone has their own opinions and many people are more than happy to share those opinions with others regardless of whether or not they are welcome. This can cause things to go downhill quickly with both conversations and books. There are certain times when a reader wants to explore a hot-button issue and times when they just want to read a love story. I was really happy that Schreck kept the politics at a minimum in this book. I was worried that it would be "message-y" and frankly I was just in the mood for a good read. Now, I don't have any problem with politics. In fact, I majored in Political Science in college. But, from time to time, I just don't want someone else's opinions lobbed in my general direction. Schreck was able to keep all of the intensity of the war in the story without assaulting the reader with propaganda from one side or the other. Family and Forgiveness: Everyone has dysfunction in their family. It's just a fact of life. Some of us have crazier families than others but we all have problems. Penna is no exception. She lives with her single mom who was abandoned by her own mother and left in the care of an alcoholic father. Penna has never met her dad. Lot's of authors would take this situation and weave a web of drama and anger around it, but Schreck creates an atmosphere of love, loyalty and forgiveness. Penna struggles with their situation while trying to reassemble the pieces of her broken family. It really makes the story all the more emotional and touching. Realistic Love: While He Was Away is not a tale of idealistic love. The relationship between David and Penna is very realistic. In the beginning of the book Penna is going through the difficult process of saying goodbye. She is deeply in love with David and has already dealt with him being gone for his training and now she has to say goodbye again, this time he will be going to a war zone. "'Wait!' I shout. 'I'll see you again before you go, right? I'll see you tomorrow?' But David is already driving away, lost in the dark. And tomorrow is today." As the story goes on and David and Penna spend more time apart, they struggle to keep their relationship intact, but despite this, they still love each other. Penna has to deal with David's absence, her fear for his safety and his choice of the Army over her. It is a much more realistic portrait of young love during war time than some other books and movies do.
majibookshelf More than 1 year ago
I had hopes that While He Was Away would be an eye opening, emotional experience for me, but unfortunately, it was not that. I understood it was about a girl's boyfriend being drafted and going off to Iraq, and the struggles she will be facing once he was gone. However, throughout the whole book I did not feel any emotional connection towards Penna. I felt like there were too many things going on in the book. Unnecessary things that do not have any relation to the main plot of the book but were added to just increase the page count. Penna needing so much to look for her long lost grandmother all of a sudden raised a lot of question marks for me. Her weird relationship with her mother and blaming her for everything just ticked me off. I felt like she was the most ungrateful child ever! Even though her mother sacrificed SO MUCH for her, she still treated her like dirt and that totally rubbed me the wrong way. Then we've got her relationship with David's fallen out best friend Ravi. After David left to Iraq, Penna had only a handful of encounters with him but somehow the idea of more kept on wedging in to the plot. I was just so confused on WHY would Penna even need to assure herself multiple times that he is just David's friend. Even though all they ever did was exchange a few awkward conversations. Yes, the plot could have gone in that direction, but with barely anything happening and for her to feel that way was just absurd. To be honest, what really made me so disconnected with all the characters was a scene that happened with David and Penna. They went on a website to play this game where the target was an arabic guy, and the point of the game was to shoot red paintballs so they will splatter all over him (as if he is bleeding). While Penna was hesitant, David told her "Think of 9/11, he totally deserves this". Now THAT was so unbelievably offensive towards me and such an unbelievable generalization that I was stunned for a minute or two. I am muslim and arabic and like the rest of the world, I was horrified by what happened on 9/11. I really hate how as soon as people hear arabs and muslims nowadays they associate it with the act of terrorism. Which is why it hurt a little to read about that incident and I just lost all connection with these characters, which was why I just couldn't get into the story. I do know the author wanted to portray the reality of how many people think, I respect her for that, but I lost all connection or care for these characters after that. All in All, While He Was Away held promise, however the main plot was not strong enough and the addition of many secondary plots somehow ruined the overall experience of the book. I hoped for more emotional, soul searching type of book, but that was not what I got. However, as always, if the book seems interesting, pick it up! you might enjoy it way more than I did.
BooksWithBite More than 1 year ago
When I started reading this book I knew exactly where it was going. This book took me buy surprise with the changes of the characters. It certainly was not what I expected it to be but instead made me long for more. What I loved most about this book are the characters. The reader meets to characters that are in love with major life changes coming along. When I read books like this, I always read from the guys point of view. Never have I read a book where we see what it is like for the girl who is left behind. I like that. I like seeing her everyday life and the hardship it is of being a military girlfriend. She did what she could to help him. The stress of her waiting for bad news at any moment really takes a toll of her too. What caught me off guard most is the relationship change of the book. I was expecting something but I wasn't expecting THAT! When it all happen, I felt like I was the one being let go. The author took a great amount of time for the reader to be invested that my heart broke with the news. I felt like I lost something. If any author can make me feel like that, then the book stole my heart. My only gripe about the story is, I feel like their story is not done. There are still a lot of questions I would like answered and would loved to see where the characters went. While He Was Away is a amazing story of love and lost. One with plot twist that will tear at your heart. Told with a passion that capture readers, While He Was Away is amazing!
TiffanyReads More than 1 year ago
Penna's boyfriend David goes off to Iraq, he feels that it is something he has to do and that it will help him. Penna struggles to maintain her relationship with David while also uncovering the secrets of her family. Our protagonist Penna is a character that I have mixed feelings about. Her emotions were very mixed up and all over the place throughout the book and I could understand why she was feeling that way but it did get on my nerves sometimes. I completely understood her feelings about David, the love she had for him and the worry that something bad would happen to him, as well as the joy she felt every time she got to talk to him or got an email from him. What made me have mixed feelings about Penna though was the way she treated her mother. I can understand that she was having a hard time with her mother but the things she said to her and the way she treated her sometimes was really rude and unnecessary. Overall you see a big change in Penna throughout the book, she changes a lot and it's great to watch. She started off so dependent on David and without him around she really had to grow and become her own person. By the end of the book I was really proud of Penna and the person she became. Penna's boyfriend David is a character that I honestly didn't care much for. Maybe it's because we don't see him much throughout the book and we don't get any flashbacks so we don't really get to see what his relationship with Penna was like before he left for Iraq. From what I saw in the book though, I did not like David. You could tell he was being affected by the horrific things he was seeing around him but he never really opened up to Penna. Even in the few chapters at the beginning of the book, before he leaves for Iraq, he seemed really closed off from Penna. He seems like the type of guy that bottles everything up and basically I just didn't find his love for Penna very believable. I thought the plot of this book was very well done and realistic. While I don't personally have any experience with anyone around me being in the army I think a lot of people who do will connect with this book really well. My favorite part of this book though would have to be Penna unraveling the mysteries of her family. Penna's family has a very tangled history and I just found Penna uncovering all her family's secrets to be really intriguing. While I wouldn't call the ending of this book happy exactly, I still thought it ended on a hopeful note, which I really liked. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I think a lot of you contemporary fans out there will really enjoy it as well. *An extended version of this review is also posted on my blog and my other social media profiles.
The_Reading_Housewives More than 1 year ago
The “in” thing right now in young adult or at least for the year 2012 it seems like, are military themed books. I’m totally all right with this! I’m going to read them all! But, there was something missing from While He Way Away…maybe the title should have clued me in to what would be missing in this book…the guy! We do get to meet him for the first couple of chapters, but after that it’s only emails, phone calls, and a Skype session. We get to see Penna’s struggle with her boyfriend going off to war and her struggles and dealings with it. If you’re looking for a book that goes into that and not about romance as much, you will probably like While He Was Away.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had to put it down a few time when it got to much