The Personal Cost of War: Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Legranis

Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Legranissomebody please tell me who i am

Published: February 7th 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Source: local library

Synopsis (Goodreads): Ben has always had it pretty easy–with no acting experience, he landed the lead in his high school musical, and he’s dating the prettiest girl in school. Haunted by memories of 9/11, he makes the decision to enlist in the army–with devastating consequences. Somehow nobody ever thought Ben would be one of the soldiers affected, but after his convoy gets caught in an explosion, Ben is in a coma for two months. When he wakes up, he doesn’t know where he is, and he doesn’t remember anything about his old life. His family and friends mourn what they see as a loss, but Ben perseveres. Although he will never be the person he once was, this is the story of his struggle and transformation.

My thoughts:

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. He suffers traumatic brain injury after an IED explosion. 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.

Though I’ve seen some criticism about the flat secondary characters or the lack of development of the plot, I think anything deeper would have felt almost exploitative. As it was, I was already crying throughout much of the book, so I don’t think it suffered from a lack of description. 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 in a classroom or book club.

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.

There are a number of young adult novels that deal with the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this is an outstanding addition to the list. I’d recommend this for fans of Personal Effects by E. M. Kokie (which I reviewed here) and those who enjoyed Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (which I reviewed here).

Second opinions:

Randomly Reading: “Ben’s story is a very poignant and very disturbing without being morbidly graphic.  It is well-written and completely realistic.  The characters are believable, compelling and strong and the transition from one point of view to another happens very smoothly.”

Youth Services Book Review: “This is an incredible short novel… just a snippet of the before and after a tragic accident.  The other characters are very flat and left me wanting more, especially Ben’s autistic brother Chris, with whom he seems to have a great connection.”

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