Monday, July 2, 2012

What We Keep is Not Always What Will Stay by Amanda Cockrell

Published June 8, 2011.

Author website.

Fifteen-year-old Angie never used to think much about God--until things started getting weird. Then Angie falls for Jesse Francis, a disabled war veteran who's a lot deeper than most high school guys. But Jesse is battling major demons. As his rages grows more frequent and unpredictable, Angie finds herself losing control of the situation.  (

Well, Soldier Boy has completely invalidated this entire book.  Look, it's not 1941 and you have sixteen-year-olds bluffing their way into the military so they can go fight the good fight.  The reality is no one without a high school degree or its equivalent is getting deployed.  It just doesn't happen that way.  So considering the entire basis of this story centers around Jessie going back to high school at nineteen to get his degree AFTER a deployment, it's pretty much screwed.  Now this was either one of two things on the part of the author: laziness a la SMeyer in not doing the research or willful omission to serve the plot.  Neither, in my eyes, are good.  Yes, you can enlist while still in high school.  You can even go to boot camp between your junior and senior year.  But once you graduate . . . let me say that again: ONCE YOU GRADUATE, your ass isn't going anywhere until you get the required training and THEN you get deployed.  See, the military is a regular job.  If it were listed in the classifieds it'd require a high school diploma or equivalent.  They're not going to get anyone without some kind of degree into any kind of potential leadership position.  I'd like to think they wouldn't let them around such heavy artillery either.

On top of that I'm not a fan of how PTSD was portrayed either.  Just a little of my background, I'm the daughter of a Special Forces Vietnam veteran, the girlfriend of a twice deployed Army officer Afghanistan veteran and I have a slew of friends and family that fall into the category of Veterans of Foreign Wars.  And I can assure you I have never once, ever, witnessed someone drop under a table because of a loud noise or flip the fuck out on someone because THEY JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND.  You see, people have a tendency of canonizing soldiers because of what they do.  The thing is, soldiers are culled from regular people.  What's mixed in with regular people?  Douchebags.  Thusly there are also douchebags in the military.  The uniform or what war they fought in doesn't exonerate their douchiness.

So we have Jessie that's the Hollywood textbook example of PTSD (*shakes fist at Hollywood*) (when in reality PTSD is mostly more subtle but things like insomnia just don't drive enough drama) when it comes to flashbacks but he also spouts off random shit at Angie when she gives opinions on more political things.  But he's been through a lot.  He's a bit bi-polar too and towards the end of the book hints are dropped that he may have some kind of head trauma but it's never fully realized.  And he's a bit of a would-be rapist as he tried to rip Angie's pants off of her while she fought him off.  But she can't possibly call the cops because HE'S BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH ALREADY.  *headdesk*

Jessie is a douche.  Dick.  Jerk.  Fuckface.  But every single character in this book excuses his actions because he's a vet and HE'S BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH.  Even Angie as she had to kung pow her way away from a future rape kit in an emergency room excuses his actions because HE'S BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH.  And this line of thinking is never remedied.  The moral of the book is basically vets can get away with anything because THEY'VE BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH.  Want to become a rapist?  Then join the military and people will excuse you for it.  NO.  NO NO NO NO NO.  Jessie is a dickbag.  Period.  I don't give a flying monkey's fart what he's been through.  It doesn't give him the right to be a total dick to people.  It doesn't give him the right to force himself on women.  Oh . . . but . . . he might have had brain damage . . . MIGHT.  Never realized.  Never proven.

And the thing is as the reader you have NO IDEA what Jessie was like pre-war.  No clue.  He could have been a total nut job.  His pre-war life is never discussed in detail except when Angie's mother mentions how nice of a guy he was.  Yeah.  People said the same thing about Ted Bundy.  Next?

So even before Soldier Boy invalidated the entire premise, I wanted to light the book on fire for it's message.  What's even worse, at the end Angie keeps a memento of Jessie to remember him by.  DID YOU FORGET HE TRIED TO RAPE YOU?  But he's been through so much . . . ^%%^(&$(^@@!

Bad message.  Bad, bad, bad.  People can have severe PTSD.  Soldiers have come home and murdered their spoused because they found out they were being cheated on while they were deployed.  That's why adultery is a felony in the military.  It's a trigger for total shit lost.  So yeah, some people can have pretty bad PTSD but thanks to Hollywood, this kind of dickbaggery is looked at as normal.  It's not.  Jessie is just a dick hiding behind PTSD as an excuse to act how he pleases.  That's pretty much it.  And people let him do it.  Because he's been through so much.

Look, I don't care what uniform a person wears.  If they're a dick, they're a dick.  A uniform isn't going to absolve them of that.  A soldier doesn't deserve to be canonized simply because they're a soldier.  Because then you start canonizing douchebags like Jessie and it just gets ugly.  Soldier Boy HATES people like this simply because they're usually faking it to mooch off the government.  In his experience.

As for the rest of the book, I felt like I was reading a twelve-year-old's diary.  It proved for a quick read but the language was scant, leaving nothing to the imagination.  Angie kept wandering off into little tidbits of random information like the Jerry Maguire kid.  I kept expecting her to spout off about the weight of a human head at some point.  Most of her inane ramblings were irrelevant to the plot and more about her day to day life, hence the diary.  It was pretty real in that it was as boring as a teenager's day-to-day life probably normally is but that doesn't really prove for good reading.  A lot of the time she was a whiny brat nagging about getting her mom and step-dad back together or being schizophrenic about Jessie and her feelings for him.  But I will give her credit: when he starts railing on her in public she does stand up to him.  She tells him he's embarrassing her and won't speak to him because of his actions.  But ultimately she gets suckered back in because he NEEDS someone and she's just that person to mend his broken self.  Even after he tries to rape her.

Saint Felix, or the homeless guy that plays him, is somewhat the voice of reason in the whole story, dropping tidbits of advice throughout.  He integrates himself in with Angie's family rather easily and personally I'd be a bit creeped out by it but okay.  There are a few things that don't make sense here so what's one more?  But even when Jessie goes completely bonkers he maintains his placid stoned hippie motif and just spits out veiled comments that merely allude to Jessie's overall troubles, like he's broken.  No shit.

WHAT WE KEEP is an easy read but I found it more infuriating than not.  I hated the message it portrayed and considering none of it could have actually happened my suspension of disbelief is blown.  It's a contemporary.  I'm supposed to be able to believe the major elements of the plot.  If you want to make stuff up write a fantasy.  Otherwise keep it real.  Really.

Ban Factor: Medium - Banners tend towards the far right.  Those people like the military.  So the fact that this book canonized military personnel might be in its favor.  But the insinuation at underage sex, even if it's forceful, might be too pornographic for them.
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