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If You’re Reading This by Trent Reedy is a rare breed of YA novel: one written for young men. Don’t get me wrong – truly great YA should be read by both boys and girls, no matter if the protagonist is male or female or if the central plot centers around defeating aliens or getting a prom date. But it’s not often that I see a book with a male protagonist who isn’t a superhero or a magician, but a normal teenage boy struggling with responsibility and loss.
The novel follows sixteen-year-old Mike, whose family is barely making ends meet seven years after the death of his father fighting in Afghanistan. When he least expects it, he begins receiving letters written to him by his father before his death. Mike doesn’t know who’s sending them, but as the letters keep coming he realizes that there’s a lot his mother never told him about his father’s death, and a lot he can still learn from his dad.
I picked up this book because I was intrigued with the premise. Even though the war in Afghanistan was such a big part of my childhood – always on the news, always being talked about and debated by the adults around me – I’ve never encountered fiction that aimed to address what life was like for the children who lost their parents there. If You’re Reading This, written by a man who served in Afghanistan, sensitively explores the realities of the live Mike has lived since his father’s death. His family struggles for money, his mom refuses to talk about his father at all, and his younger sister is constantly giving him a hard time. Though I think the book is better suited towards younger readers – probably thirteen or fourteen rather than sixteen like Mike – I think it’s one that a lot of readers will sympathize with.
Mike’s world is one I am totally unfamiliar with. He’s a football star, gets invited to cool high school parties, and works on a farm. At the same time, he’s pretty much completely uninterested in popularity, his favorite pastime is reading, and his love interest is an Iranian girl. As far as character building goes, those are pretty interesting components! If You’re Reading This is not my normal reading fare, but it is quite well done, and is a book that will mean a lot to the right reader.