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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll Feel It
I'll will spare you another blurb and get right to the point. I read this book in a day, hardly put it down, and was completely spent and satisfied when I came out the other side. The last YA I've read that had a similar effect on me was Green's Fault in Our Stars. E.M. Kokie has crafted a pace perfect emotional roller coaster with complex characters. I loved this book...
Published 22 months ago by Rebecca Taylor

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3.0 out of 5 stars An accurate portrayal of life after the death of a family member in the military
Enter into the broken and abnormal world of Matt Foster, a high school junior who spends his time failing to meet expectations. In her novel PERSONAL EFFECTS, E.M. Kokie introduces Matt and his immediate associates by detailing each way that Matt does not satisfy his closest relationships. Meet Shauna, Matt's best girl friend, to whom Matt can never provide enough...
Published 1 month ago by Teen Reads


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Debut! Thought Provoking! Heart Breaking!, September 21, 2012
By 
M. Rodriguez "Lely" (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Personal Effects (Hardcover)
This here is one book you can't possibly give any details about because anything at all would be a spoiler. Needless to say this is going to be one hard review to write.

Matt has a lot going on. It's like the understatement of the year. He lives with his scary father who keeps pushing him to enlist after graduation, his older brother T.J. was blown to bits in Iraq about 6 months prior, he's crushing hard on his best friend, his grades are non-existent, and he is angry... really angry.

A series of events occur that lead Matt to want to know more about his brother while he was a soldier on duty. When T.J.'s lockers are delivered to their home, Matt does everything possible to keep a piece of his brother with him while doing right by his memory.

I was definitely impressed with the writing in the sense that you feel every bit of angst that is sent your way. It was incredibly real. It didn't matter whether it was Matt or another character speaking at the time, you just knew exactly what that person was feeling and why, no questions asked. I honestly couldn't put this book down. I had to know what was coming next. Let me tell you, this book is definitely NOT predictable. You won't see anything coming and that too was impressive. Many props to the author. She pieced everything together in such a way that it unfolded seamlessly leaving you with a jaw dropping WHAT THE HECK just happened kind of look on your face one minute and a jaw dropping WHAT NOW look a minute after.

THE ONLY problem I had with the book was the use of some language that just seemed out of character for Matt and it really felt like a slap in the face. I literally felt the slap. Weird, I know. The words were U.G.L.Y. I can understand his initial shock that led to these ugly words AND he later had a change of heart, however, he never voiced how wrong he was to use those words or how ashamed he felt using/thinking those words. I needed to feel that resentment. I needed the reader to know that it wasn't cool at all to think that way. Eh... It's only my opinion but as a mom who would like to recommend this read to her kid, I'd like a book this powerful and possibly influential to ensure that words like that are definitely not ok.

Overall, this is a great read. I didn't feel happy at the end of this book. I felt sad. The book doesn't have a true happily ever after but it didn't need to because like in real life some things are just a work in progress. Matt does walk away a stronger person with a plan to live happier and I couldn't help but feel hope and love for this kid.

A week later, I'm still trying to process all of the thoughts and emotions this great read has provoked.

ARC provided by Candlewick Press via NetGalley.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll Feel It, September 16, 2012
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This review is from: Personal Effects (Hardcover)
I'll will spare you another blurb and get right to the point. I read this book in a day, hardly put it down, and was completely spent and satisfied when I came out the other side. The last YA I've read that had a similar effect on me was Green's Fault in Our Stars. E.M. Kokie has crafted a pace perfect emotional roller coaster with complex characters. I loved this book and hope she is working on something else. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary YAs.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing and realistic, December 23, 2012
This review is from: Personal Effects (Hardcover)
I think I would have loved this book even more if I hadn't read it right after Something Like Normal - the books deal with very similar topics, and nothing can compare to my one true love, Something Like Normal. That being said, I really enjoyed Personal Effects!

Matt is a compelling narrator. It's impossible not to feel for someone with a family situation as messed up as his! His mom, who had some mental health issues, left the family when Matt was young, and died shortly after. His dad has always been abusive. Then his brother dies in combat. If that's not enough for one person to have to deal with, I don't know what is! I didn't always relate to Matt or fully understand him, just because he's so different from me, but I did feel for him, and I loved reading about him. Matt's voice is great - very authenticly male.

I really enjoyed EM Kokie's writing style. I can't put my finger on what it is about the writing - I wouldn't call it beautiful and it's not too descriptive or ornate, but there's just something about it. The writing sucked me in, and that's what it all comes down to, isn't it? EM Kokie's style made it easy to get lost in Matt's world. The writing is understated for the most part, letting the reader focus on Matt and his story, but then there are parts that'll make you stop and, you know, feel. The author has a keen eye for realistic dialogue, and the pacing was perfect. I just loved it!

Some people might find the plot predictable - re-reading the synopsis, I guess you might have been able to tell what TJ's hiding. But I didn't figure it out beforehand, and I loved finding out more about TJ's past! Maybe some parts and clues are a little too convenient, but I didn't even care, because the journey they sent Matt on is so amazing.

I also loved the romance. I'm a huge fan of the classic best-friends-turning-into-more storyline, even if it is overdone. But I don't think it'd matter if you don't tend to love those kind of storylines, since the fact that it's from the guy's POV adds something new and original, even if it's an idea we've read about a hundred times from the girl's POV. There is some serious sexual tension in Personal Effects - the scenes between Matt and Shauna are hot! Like, really really hot. I loved these two together, but I also appreciate that the romance didn't turn into the main focus of the novel - this is still just Matt's story.

The family storyline is very well-done. The whole set-up is unique and definitley intriguing. I would have liked to know even more about the family background - about the mom and how Matt dealt with her death, as well as the dad's history and why he is the way he is. But in a way, I get why the author decided to focus on Matt dealing with the more recent loss of his brother.

I'm loving this trend towards these war-focused stories! I'm not even sure why, since it's not something I'm all that interested in in real life, but it definitely causes for some good stories. This is hard to talk about without spoiling anything, but Personal Effects also has a political element, which, surprisingly, I enjoyed. Don't let that turn you off - when I read fiction, I'm not looking for news or politics or anything like that, either. But in this case, it works really well with the story.

Personal Effects is a great debut novel with a refreshing style and realistic characters. It balances the different aspects of the story perfectly, seamlessly transitioning from serious to light and back again. I loved it, and I'll be on the lookout for future books by EM Kokie!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great debut from E.M. Kokie!, September 11, 2012
This review is from: Personal Effects (Hardcover)
Personal Effects has been on my to-read list since I first heard about it. I had really high expectations for this book and while it wasn't quite as awesome as I had hoped it was still a great debut from E.M. Kokie.

It's always interesting to read a book told from a male point of view that is written by a female. E.M. Kokie really captured the male perspective and Matt never came across as contrived or false. Matt was both the average teenage boy but also so much more. He thought about girls and sex and his future but those things were always second in his mind. Always at the forefront was worry about his dad and what kind of mood he might be in or what he might do to set him off. His home life was terrible but he tried not to let it affect the rest of his day-to-day life. Sure he had some attitude issues and he caused a bit of trouble at school but mainly he was a good guy. He was funny and kind-hearted. He was just misunderstood by most people.

The secondary characters were surprisingly well-developed. At first it seemed like Matt's dad would just be the nasty father who didn't really have any reason to be that way but I was pleasantly surprised when his back-story was revealed. He had a lot more going on than I originally thought and while I never really felt anything for him, by the end I could kind of understand him. Shauna was my favorite character by far. She was super nice and funny and lovable and she was the best friend ever to Matt. She stuck with him through everything and even when she was super mad at him she always cared for him. And while the rest of the characters play a big role in the story they weren't actually present for a lot of the book. However they were well-developed and I really felt connected to them.

The story itself actually reminds me a bit of another military related book that was released this year; In Honor by Jessi Kirby. Now don't get me wrong I'm not saying they are anything alike it's just that the stories have some similarities that I really enjoyed in both of them. Matt finds out some things about his brother and he sets off on a road-trip to do one last thing to honor T.J. The road trip is only a minor part of the story; it's what he finds when he reaches his destination that really changes everything for him. There was so much more to the story than the summary hinted at and there were quite a few surprising revelations. I would say that Personal Effects is a more serious, boy version of In Honor.

Overall, Personal Effects is another fabulous contemporary for 2012. Military related books seem to be a new trend this year and of the few that I have read I think Personal Effects is definitely one of the best!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Book, September 11, 2012
This review is from: Personal Effects (Hardcover)
Matt has lost his brother, T.J., while T.J. served in the military, and now Matt has a lot to deal with. Like his father isn't a nice man and he's having anger management problems at school. Then T.J.'s personal effects arrive and Matt finds love letters written to T.J. from a girl named Celia. So he plans a road trip with his best friend, Shauna--who is becoming more than a friend--to learn more about Celia and about his dead brother. And the story is about him coming to terms with his brother's death.

Loved the writing of this one, loved how "guyish" Matt sounds, even though it was written by a woman!
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3.0 out of 5 stars An accurate portrayal of life after the death of a family member in the military, June 19, 2014
By 
This review is from: Personal Effects (Paperback)
Enter into the broken and abnormal world of Matt Foster, a high school junior who spends his time failing to meet expectations. In her novel PERSONAL EFFECTS, E.M. Kokie introduces Matt and his immediate associates by detailing each way that Matt does not satisfy his closest relationships. Meet Shauna, Matt's best girl friend, to whom Matt can never provide enough support. Matt's abusive father (called Dad) is constantly disgusted by his son's weakness, and does not deem Matt man enough to join the military.

The military itself is a huge threat looming over Matt's head --- when he was born, his parents decided he would follow his father’s footsteps and enlist, but Matt is not convinced that he wants the life of a soldier. To complicate affairs, T.J., Matt's deceased older brother who died in Army combat, is continually referenced by Matt's father as the hero to whom Matt must compare.

All of these pressures perpetually grate on Matt, but no standards are as destructive as those that Matt places on himself. Matt (greatly influenced by his father) denies himself the ability to express grief over T.J.'s death out of fear that pain would mark him pusillanimous, so his repressed emotions overwhelm and threaten to break him. When T.J.'s personal effects are delivered to Matt's house, he finds items that reveal T.J. to have been different from the older brother Matt always considered him, and Matt decides that he must go on a journey to discover who his brother truly was. As Matt's image of T.J. transforms with new discoveries, his conception of the world and himself shifts accordingly.

What I most admired about E.M. Kokie's writing style in PERSONAL EFFECTS was the way sheremained true to the emotions that follow a familial death, especially when a relative has died in the military. She seemed to thoroughly invest herself in character development, and portrayed all of the emotional/personal effects (get the pun?) that death brings. Another highlight of the novel was the "inside" information it provided about military service; it shared aspects of enlisted life and relationships that are little-known or often overlooked. Without revealing too much (because this book contains major surprises), I will say that characteristics of T.J. that Matt brings to light open a huge can of worms about certain military procedural protocols.

On the contrary, my resounding complaint about PERSONAL EFFECTS was that E.M. Kokie writes about a specific type of military life that is abusive and harsh, and marginalizes military fathers into a group of men like The Great Santini. As an extremely patriotic person, I did not appreciate the way the military was portrayed in this novel. I know that in some cases veteran fathers can get out of control in their "tough love" approach to life, but there is a delicate balance between acknowledging the flaws of an organization and completely ignoring its virtuous aspects. I believe Kokie fell just short of achieving this balance, which would have enhanced her full development of the characters she presents.

Reviewed by Cadyn D.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great story about family, identity and making peace with the past, June 13, 2014
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This review is from: Personal Effects (Kindle Edition)
I really enjoyed Matt's journey from angry and violent teenager, abusive at school but abused at home, to a more assertive, less judgmental man. Matt's growth is spurred by his brother T.J's death at war, which makes Matt question how much he wants to follow his father's plans of enlisting, and also makes Matt want to find out more about his brother.

There's some strong language and violence, but it's part of the story. There's a twist that I could see coming, maybe because of the foreshadowing or because I watch too much TV, but it wasn't the twist itself that was important but how Matt handles it and how it forces him to change his mind about many things.

It's a well written book with a compelling protagonist who's in a dark place at the beginning but manages to get out by the end.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Touching, March 23, 2014
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This review is from: Personal Effects (Hardcover)
This book had a twist i did not see coming. I won't lie to you. And that twist made this book just as interesting. This book make you realize just how fake some people are forced to be to themselves in order to stay real to others. But it also shows that the real in others is truly shown when the fake facade of another is exposed. Great read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Well crafted story., December 3, 2013
This review is from: Personal Effects (Kindle Edition)
I had the pleasure of meeting E.M. Kokie at a conference. She seems like a wonderful person and her ability to get into Matt's head in PERSONAL EFFECTS was amazing. I like the rawness of the emotions and his reactions to every twist and turn. This book is definitely not a light read.

For me, the beginning was slow. It takes about half the book for the personal effects to arrive and we spend a majority of the time of this tale in Matt's head. There isn't much dialog (Matt doesn't share his feels aloud much). And there isn't that much action. So while Kokie has a wonderful way with words, there were just a bit too much for me. A little less and the book would have moved at a quicker pace.

Overall, a great read. I will be reading more of Kokie's work in the future.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A hard, but painfully honest story, May 6, 2013
By 
MLE "Omnivorous reader" (Bass Harbor, ME United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Personal Effects (Hardcover)
A really hard, powerful book about love, loss, and family. Matt is a very angry teenage boy, but considering his father and the home he lives in, and losing his brother his rage is understandable. His father is not a nice person, and his inability, and unwillingness to cope with the loss of son, and his verbal and physical abuse help to make Matt the mess he is. His reaction to his brother's secret isn't positive, and it isn't necessarily fair, but considering where he comes from, and what he has been brought up thinking it is in no way out of left field. I think it made him feel less connected to his brother, and considering how much he admired and looked up to his brother knowing that his brother kept such a big part of his life secret from him hurt. To Matt it was like his brother was equating him with their father, and considering how little respect they had for their father it made Matt question how much his brother truly loved and trusted him.

I really liked Matt's crush on Shauna. It was a nice change of pace to read a book about a teenage boy with such a sweet crush on a girl instead of the other way around. I really liked Shauna, and how much she cared for, and supported Matt. She was a smart, capable girl, and even when she was angry, and hurt she didn't keep Matt from doing what he needed to do.

The ending was well done. It felt like Matt had undergone real change in the way he viewed himself, and those around him. I liked that while it felt hopefully that it wasn't a fairy tale ending, and even though things show signs of improving it was nothing that isn't going to take work, patience, and understanding on everyone's part to sustain, and grow. A really well told story that was hard to put down.
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Personal Effects
Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie (Hardcover - September 11, 2012)
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