Believable and fascinating (4 stars)
Source- review copy
Published by Little, Brown Book Group UK. Released 24th April.
I read the Kindle edition. The hardcover is 289 pages.
Lauren Clay initially joined the army in order to try and provide for her family: her younger brother Danny who she adores, and her father who suffers from bouts of depression and seems unable to cope with every day life. Joining up however, comes at a great personal cost for Lauren and when she arrives home unexpectedly from a tour of duty, it soon becomes apparent to those around her that she is having some difficulty in adjusting to civilian life once more…
Be Safe I Love You is an incredibly well-written story about not only war and the effects that it can have on its soldiers, but also those who are left behind. It is a story of love, relationships and family and was a gripping, read-in-one-sitting book that definitely concentrates more on its characters than stretching out any kind of exhaustive, complex plot. With its believable protagonists, poignant accounts of battle and compelling dialogue, I yearned to know what was going to happen and just what had caused Lauren to turn into someone so very different than the girl who left for Afghanistan.
Telling a story of a returning war veteran from a female POV was actually a premise that I’ve not encountered before- so for me this was a really interesting theme for a book. When I found out it was based on the author’s own experiences with her brother returning from overseas I sensed that it would be well-researched and moving- and happily, this was the case. It is filled with emotional insight and its prose is hauntingly beautiful. The novel is also incredibly sensory, depicting small town American life and then the stark barrenness of the snowy mountains and Hebron Oilfields of Canada. It felt disorientating at times as the story alternated between present day USA and Lauren’s time spent in the violent, volatile heat of the desert, though I sense that was the authors aim. The reader is left feeling a bit clouded and wondering what is going to happen next. I appreciated the flashbacks and knowing what Lauren had experienced, though at times I didn’t always think they worked. It became more a case of ‘tell’ and not ‘show’ in those instances.
The character development was pretty flawless in this book. Though I found Lauren to be somewhat frustrating and with a hard exterior, I sense she was written this way deliberately, as when she interacted with her little brother, her true self came to the surface and their bond was wonderful. Occasionally I wanted to reach into the book and shake her, demanding to know what she thought she was doing, though I understood her predicament and the challenges she faced in acclimatising to ‘normal’ life once more. It is unimaginable the sort of torment servicemen and women are forced to live through in war zones. In that respect, I think the author did an excellent job in portraying her. Also, she has something of a potty-mouth, so be warned if you are not of that disposition!
Danny was undoubtedly my favourite character. I loved the closeness he shared with Lauren and the ‘dispatches’ that he sent to her when she was in Afghanistan were light-hearted and added some much needed humour to what was otherwise a pretty dark story. Upon meeting Danny, it becomes clear just why Lauren joined the army- she needed to earn money so he too would one day be able to realise his own dreams, a true act of sisterly devotion. Then however, she goes and tries to push her own interests and beliefs onto him and that is where the trouble really begins…
The secondary characters, including Lauren’s best friend and boyfriend hover at the periphery of this story in places. We get to know them, though not especially well, but even they sense that all is not well in the Clay family. An undercurrent of tension and violence hovers through the thread of this story, simmering. It is only a question of when it will eventually be brought to the surface, and when it does it will impact on everyone involved.
The author did a tremendous job in depicting PTSD and showing the haunting, horrific effects of war. It was a raw, brutal story. I have however awarded this book four stars instead of five, as I did sense a twist that was coming, long before it appeared. I sense it was intended to pull the rug out from under the reader’s feet, but whilst sad, for me it did not deliver any particular ‘shock value.’ I also felt that this novel left a few unanswered questions come its conclusion. The ending actually felt a little bit lazy, particularly given how much depth had been in the story until that point.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking account of a veteran’s return home from war and getting to know the Clay family- particularly Danny. Be Safe I Love You felt like a very personal, well-researched story and I would be keen to read other work from Hoffman in future.