'Personal Effects,' the debut novel of E.M. Kokie

By Ashley Houk,

E.M. Kokie’s first novel, Personal Effects, is nothing if not entirely human. After his older brother is killed serving in Iraq, Matt Foster takes readers on a ride.

Full of ups and downs—family drama and normal teenage drama—Kokie adequately portrays the effects of life on a teenager, from a teen’s point of view. While Matt doesn’t exactly ‘have it easy’ at home, he withstands the trials and does his best.

Once he and his father receive his brother’s personal effects, Matt can’t wait to go through them. Waiting for the right moment, and absence of his father, he devises a plan for his endeavor and then pounces on his opportunity. The contents of three footlockers is nearly too much for Matt, but he manages to salvage some things for himself and stow them away in his room.

Matt is exacting and precise in nearly most situations. He calculates and plans to a tee…unless the situation involves his best friend, Shauna, or father. In those instances he is often clumsy and more than unsure of himself. Kokie’s character development of our protagonist is much the same. It’s fairly precise in expressing how deep emotions feel to the individual, particularly in regard to loss. However, it somehow lacks in depicting Matt as anything more complex than angry, angsty, or uncertain.

Personal Effects explores the world of grief and love, in all its different forms, but most times the narration is flat. Not lacking in conflict, but lacking in momentum, it’s hard to really buy into the story beyond the moments of intense emotion.

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