WARNING!!!! This book deals with PTSD and contains scenes from the Vietnam War!
Title: What we Keep is not Always What Will Stay
Author: Amanda Cockrell
Release Date: June 8th 2011
Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
Hear me, Saint Somebody
Angie never used to think much about God–until things started getting strange. Like the statue of St. Felix, her secret confidant, suddenly coming off his pedestal and talking to her. And Jesse Francis, sent home from Afghanistan at age nineteen with his leg blown off. Now he’s expected to finish high school and fit right back in. Is God even paying attention to this?
Against the advice of St. Felix (who knows a thing or two about war), Angie falls for Jesse–who’s a lot deeper than most high school guys. But Jesse is battling some major demons. As his behavior starts to become unpredictable, and even dangerous, Angie finds herself losing control of the situation. And she’s starting to wonder . . . can one person ever make things right for someone else?
My First Thoughts:
I came across this book while attending a writing camp at Hollens University one summer. I honestly can’t remember why I decided to pick it up, or what intrigued me the most because I’ve had it for a while now. However, when I picked it up recently I thought that the title and the book cover were so eye catching that it got bumped to the top of the reading pile.
Honestly, it had been a while since I read realistic fiction and I almost forgot what it was like. I know crazy, right? However, it didn’t take me long to get into the swing of this book, and in fact it didn’t take me long to finish it either, just took a while to write the review.
The first thing I have to say is that this book is not what you expect it to be. By the end of the book, my mind had been blown away by what happened and it took me away to piece it back together. What I mean is that this book is an emotional rollercoaster that you can’t get off of until the last swirl, spiral, loop-dee-loop, and heart-stopping drop is over with.
The ‘romance’ wasn’t one of the big players in this game. Instead, romance kind of took a back seat to the Coming of Age theme in this book. Sure, the romance helped Angie in some of her growth and added to the climax. However, the main focus of this story was the growth of Angie, a young girl not yet 16, in a modern time of war, death and divorce. The book focused more on how she reacted to certain big events and how they changed her throughout the story.
I also found this book to have a more realistic outlook on how a teenager goes through school and what they would focus on in the narration. Too many times I have found authors writing a very Hollywood version of high school that’s so unrealistic that it becomes distracting. However, I enjoyed the scenes in the high school and found them to be pretty realistic.
I’m always a stickler for a good cast, both main and supporting, so I tend to get picky with a book’s characters. With that said, I absolutely loved all the characters in this book. Cockrell did an amazing job picking out people from all walks of life and piecing them together perfectly like a jigsaw puzzle. Every character had a specific role and both the main and supporting characters showed change over time. She also does a good job of making them human and not dolls or actors in a movie. I loved Angie as the narrator, sure it was a little disorienting at first, but it soon grew on me. It didn’t take long for it to feel like she was actually telling me this story from her childhood over drinks. She narrated in snap shots, describing scenes in chronological order but didn’t always flow smoothly together. Sometimes she went into detail about something random that didn’t quite make sense at the time, but by the end of the novel it all made sense in the grand scheme of things.
Cockrell also did an amazing job with picking out and stringing together bits of tradition and lore from the cultures that most impacted Angie. The author shows what life could be like for a child whose parents are of different religions and ethnicities. It was fun to read about the different traditions and lore because they spiced up the story rather nicely. It was nice to read a story with a person of color as the main character for a change and actually know it too.
It was also nice to see a romance between a nice girl and a guy with a mental illness. Warning, one of the main characters suffers from PTSD from fighting in a war. Sure, there have been books with the male protagonist suffering from something or another, but it’s never really addressed or adds anything to the actual plot. Cockrell, however, uses the mental illness as one of the driving forces in the story and how the illness not only affects the victim but the people who loves the victim as well. She also uses it as a good example, that no matter how hard you try, you can’t help everyone even if your heart is big enough. Taking on the burdens of another person doesn’t always help them in the end, but it will darken the circles under your own eyes.
This book honestly surprised me. It had a bit of a rough start but it had a killer ending. The title is one of the most accurate and dead on titles I have read for at least the month, maybe even the entire year. The characters were so real and diverse; I honestly can’t say that enough! Felix was a hoot, even though he weirded me out when he was first introduced. It was quite the journey to read as Angie grew up and changed from good times and bad times. And it was also nice to see some of the people around her change as well, some even for the worse. Cockrell did an amazing job showing how war can not only affect the soldiers and the victims, but the people at home, removed from the war.
I loved the traditions and lore that she mentioned, really using them to flesh out who Angie was as a person and also the people of the town. I also love the Coming of Age theme within the novel, because let’s face it a teenager changes the most between 15-17 and it was interesting to read how Angie changed from the situations that were presented to her. It was also nice to see romance take the back seat to a story for once and for the male protagonist to be ‘fragile’ in some way, not in a bad way but the character isn’t oozing masculinity and drinking broody juice.
This book was a bit of fresh air after some of the books that I read before it. I loved seeing how Angie changed and grew, and I also enjoyed watching the other characters change as well. Sure the main focus was on Angie, however, the writer did a very good job at showing how people in the background or just outside the spotlight also changed. The writing was unique and fun to read with diverse characters from all walks of life. I loved how she incorporated different traditions and lore from all of the cultures that influenced Angie’s life, it was a true picture of the ‘American Melting Pot’. And the ending was not what I was expecting and totally surprised me, which is hard to do most of the time!
I would recommend this to people of all ages, because I believe that it is one of those books that can teach people something different as they grow older. Younger people can relate to Angie, parents can relate to Angie’s parents, and veterans or people who know veterans can relate to Felix and Jesse.