Friday, May 24, 2013

Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis

I remember talking to Harry Mazer thirty years ago about his semi-autographical teen novel The Last Mission. I'd had to respond to a request for reconsideration because the soldiers in that WWII story used a lot of vulgar words. He confirmed that his purpose was to show how war changed a young man's sensibilities. Over the years since then, we've learned more and more about how war changes people.
Ben has everything – girlfriend, best friend, loving family, a potential career in music or theater, and on the eve of high school graduation a compelling sense of obligation to serve his country. He enlists and is sent to Iraq. Soon there's the all too familiar story of an IED blowing up the humvee carrying Ben and his fellow soldiers. Ben suffers traumatic brain injury.
In the third part of the book Ben, his family, his best friend and his girlfriend, attempt to recover. Ben's mind is so badly injured that he recognizes no one but his younger brother Chris. The stresses of dealing with this strange, memory-less personality inhabiting their beloved Ben are almost too much for the others. Chris, who has autism, finds creative ways to cope and express his feelings. Ariela feels her fiance is gone even though his body looks much the same.
Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am is quite short though it covers a year and a half, and the emotions of all the characters are raw and intense. But the most impressive achievement is how the authors get inside Ben's injured mind and help us see what he is experiencing. For this, the book received the teen level Schneider Family Book Award which is given to a book for the artistic expression of the disability experience.
Drawing on his own teenage war experience, Harry Mazer is one of the finest writers about combat for adolescent readers, so try his other novels too. Another teen novel about the Iraq war is Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers which was reviewed here several years ago.

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