Since today was Veterans Day, I thought this book, which I included on yesterday’s Cybils shortlist, would be a good one to review today:
Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am, by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis
From the jacket: “Everything has always come easily to Ben Bright. He’s a solid student, landed the lead in his high school play, and has been with Ariela, his amazing girlfriend, for as long as either of them can remember. Everyone expects great things from Ben. So when Ben enlists in the army right out of high school, they are devastated.”
My take: Aimed at middle schoolers, this slim novel takes a look at 15 months in the life of Ben Bright, his parents, his autistic brother, his best friend, and his girlfriend. Ben surprises everyone in his life with the announcement just before graduation that he would not be heading to college, as expected, but instead has enlisted in the reserves and will be heading to basic training. While this isn’t a choice anyone in his life is thrilled about, they all come around to acceptance before he leaves home and is ultimately shipped off to the front lines.
But then they learn that there has been an explosion in Iraq and that Ben has been injured. He has suffered a severe brain trauma that has left him without any memories and with the need to relearn even the most basic bodily functions. He doesn’t recognize his loved ones, who must struggle with how best to support him — and each other — in the following months.
The novel is divided into three sections (Before, During, and After), with the early parts of the story nearly all told from Ben’s perspective. The final (and understandably longest) section of the book shifts from Ben in various stages of recovery to fiancée Ariela away at college to various other characters. This is one of those instances where the change in perspective is a useful one as we see the way everyone strives to be supportive of Ben’s recovery while still fraying at the edges of their own lives. There are no easy answers, although the ending is a hopeful one.
This story of a young man who chooses to serve his country and his loved ones who are forced to serve it, too, should be read by everyone.