Powerful Teen Novel: Personal Effects

Personal Effects is a well-written, highly engaging, debut novel by E.M. Kokie, an attorney in Madison, Wisconsin, who has long been drawn to teen literature. Readers will find humor, compassion, excitement, and a memorable coming-of-age story in these pages.

The story opens as 17-year-old Matt Foster is trying to recover from the death of his older brother, T.J., in Iraq. Matt is failing classes at school, fighting with classmates, and trying to tune out his father's command that he follow T.J.'s steps to the military after high school. When T.J.'s stuff -- some of the “personal effects” in the title -- are shipped home, Matt thinks sneaking to go through them will help put closure on his grief. Instead, he unearths letters and secrets about his brother's identity, strength, honor, and bravery that show him that he did not know T.J. as well as he thought he did.

As Matt comes to terms with his brother’s life and death, he begins to better stand his ground with his dad and to become the hero of his own unfolding young-adult life. Matt’s high-school girlfriend, Shauna, is an intriguing and charming character who contributes much to the page-turning magnetism of the narrative. I hope Ms. Kokie is writing more books!