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Staff Picks: Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Legranis

In the last year, several young adult novels that explore the experience of veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan., but none quite so heart-wrenching as Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Legranis.

Told in three parts—before, during, and after—this is the story of a young man who decides to enlist in the army reserves after high school, though he had opportunities elsewhere and is leaving behind a loving family, his autistic brother, his best friend, and his fiancee. When he suffers traumatic brain injury after an IED explosion, he is in a coma for several months and when he wakes up, doesn’t remember anything about his past. Though the story revolves around his accident and recovery, it’s more about how his deployment and condition change the lives of everyone who cares about him.

This is a very powerful, emotional story that will resonate with many readers. Because it is very short and told in a variety of formats, from traditional narration to text messages to Ben’s ‘memory journal’, it’s very modern and accessible.

I thought the parents, best friend, girlfriend, and brother, not to mention Ben, were compelling and fully formed characters. Though this topic could have been controversial and politically divisive, this novel examines the human cost of the war on an individual level rather than the global context for the conflict that throws a bomb in the middle of these characters’ lives. Because of it’s perspective, it’s a great book for discussions.

This novel was the recipient of the 2012 Schneider Family Book Award in the teen category, which honors a young adult book for its portrayal of people with disabilities. Not only do Mazer and Legranis do a fantastic job portraying the internal struggle of Ben as he copes with his memory loss, but it also features an autistic character who is very accurately depicted.

I’d recommend this for fans of Personal Effects by E. M. Kokie, which I reviewed here.

– Molly, YA

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