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While He Was Away
Cover of While He Was Away
While He Was Away
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One year—he'll be gone for one year and then we'll be together again and everything will be back to the way it should be.The day David left, I felt like my heart was breaking.Sure, any...
One year—he'll be gone for one year and then we'll be together again and everything will be back to the way it should be.The day David left, I felt like my heart was breaking.Sure, any...
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  • One year—he'll be gone for one year and then we'll be together again and everything will be back to the way it should be.

    The day David left, I felt like my heart was breaking.

    Sure, any long–distance relationship is tough, but David was going to war—to fight, to protect, to put his life in danger. We can get through this, though. We'll talk, we'll email, we won't let anything come between us.

    I can be on army girlfriend for one year. But will my sweet, soulful, funny David be the same person when he comes home? Will I? And what if he doesn't come home at all...?

    "A tender and honest examination of love, longing, and loyalty in the face of modern war."—Laura Ruby, author of Bad Apple

    "While He Was Away is a wonderful love story with writing that is skillful and true."—Amy Timberlake, author of That Girl Lucy Moon


  • From the book


    I won't let the Oklahoma wind whip our words away. They can get lost when David and I fly along like this-him driving his red motorcycle, me holding on tight to him. But tonight, especially tonight, I won't let it happen. Tomorrow is soon enough. Tomorrow is another enforced separation, maybe silence. Only this time it's different. Tomorrow David is really, truly gone.

    I lean into the ratcheting wind, into him, and shout, "Say something!"

    David's muscled back moves against me. He laughs. I love the sound of his laugh. It's been rare since last March, when he shipped off to OSUT. One Station Unit Training. That's what OSUT stands for. For David and other infantry guys like him, OSUT means basic and advanced individual training slapped into eighteen weeks.

    For me, OSUT means Our Separation is Unbelievably Terrible. I never told David this, not in any of our phone conversations during that time. Not at Family Day. Definitely not on the day of his graduation. Positive attitude. That's what I've got to maintain, now that I'm an army girlfriend. At least that's what all the bloggers say. The girls and women in chat rooms. The answers to FAQs on various military-related sites.

    Question: What's the best way to help your soldier?

    Answer: Keep a positive attitude. Write lots of encouraging letters. Soldiers look forward to daily mail call.

    I wrote lots of encouraging letters while David was at OSUT. David, who wrote letters to me all the time before he left-even when we'd already spent an entire day together, did not write at all. No time, he explained. Phone calls would have to be enough. When I saw his schedule, I understood. Still, there were days when I felt bummed about the lack of encouraging mail for me. On those days I'd pull out his old letters. I'd remember finding them slipped into my locker or book bag or mailbox. I'd read them again.

    I'd wait forever to get another letter from David.

    "'Say something?'" His voice, echoing mine, is strong against the wind: "Something!"

    "You know what I mean!"

    But something is better than nothing, so I kiss David's ticklish neck-his brown skin tanned even darker now-until a shudder runs through him and he cries out, "Mercy!"

    Now I'm laughing too, laughing like there's no tomorrow. We bank around a sharp curve and bump from two-lane pavement and the outskirts of Killdeer to single-lane, red dirt road and the country. David revs the bike, sending up a cloud of dust. I bury my face in his shoulder to keep from getting an eyeful. My helmet bumps against his shoulder bone. I'm not laughing anymore. Why laugh when I can still breathe him in? Clean, spicy soap. Faint salty tang. And fresh-cut grass, because this afternoon he mowed the yard for his mom and dad. One last time.


    When I look up, we've left Killdeer's streetlights far behind. Stars prick the dusky sky. Shapes dart and skitter in the bright headlight-bugs, birds, and bats, trying to clear out of the way. I kiss David's neck again, and we swerve for one wild moment before he swiftly steers us straight.

    "Penna! You're distracting me." David casts this over his shoulder like a token. "Stop, or there could be trouble." He flashes his charming, crooked grin and starts singing Elvis Costello's "Accidents Will Happen" at the top of his lungs, all off-key.

    "Don't!" With such heat in my voice, I hardly sound like myself. "Accidents-not funny. Or victims. Not now. Not ever."

    Immediately I'm filled with regret. That was just the...

About the Author-

  • Karen Schreck once had lunch with the Queen of Holland. There were many forks. Perhaps this inspired her (failed) attempt at waitressing. She lives outside Chicago with her husband and two children. Visit karenschreck.com/blog


  • Kirkus

    April 15, 2012
    When her boyfriend David leaves for a stint in Iraq, Penna is anxious and devastated, but eventually she finds ways to cope. At first, observing Penna change from a girl totally absorbed in her boy to one who has other concerns, friends and responsibilities is like watching paint dry. But the pace rapidly picks up as both David and Penna become more caught up in their immediate environments. Penna discovers information about a grandmother who has been missing in her life, gets pulled into waiting tables at her mother's restaurant and finds new friends with whom she can share her current life. In Iraq, David struggles with the mind-numbing work of patrols and the terror that interrupts it, and he focuses on an orphanage for Iraqi refugee children as a way to be useful. Strong characterization, the vivid setting of a small Oklahoma town and the clear depiction of present life, with Skype, e-mail and phones with their inadequate promise of instant communication, strengthen the narrative and ground it in the present. Paralleling Penna's story is her discovery of a grandmother who lost her first husband in World War II. The perils of war limn the memories of the women left behind and cast into relief both their devotion and their need to continue to live separate and independent lives. A strong entry in the growing genre of fiction about the Iraq war. (Fiction. 12 & up)

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    June 1, 2012

    Gr 9 Up-Penna is determined to be a positive "Army girlfriend" while her boyfriend, David, is stationed in Iraq. Faced with the prospect of a year without him, the 18-year-old is wrought with fear, worry, and loneliness. As relative newcomers to Killdeer, a small Oklahoma town, Penna and her mother have few ties to the community beyond the house and restaurant they inherited from her grandfather. Friendless and alone while her mother works long hours, Penna waits for phone calls from David and begins to uncover some family history in the attic. Her contact with him is infrequent, and instead of spending her time preparing her art portfolio for college, she lies in bed rereading his letters. In an attempt to pry Penna from her depression, her mother hires her as a server at the restaurant. Despite her lack of skills as a waitress, Penna begins to make new friends and a new purpose. As her maturity and self-awareness develop, she connects with her mother as well as her estranged grandmother. She also comes to terms with her separation from David. Teens will devour this title quickly despite some stilted dialogue and one-dimensional characters. The ending is realistic and void of any fairy-tale solutions that might diminish the harsh realities of what soldiers often face.-Lynn Rashid, Marriotts Ridge High School, Marriottsville, MD

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • A Soul Unsung "" Karen Schreck pens a poignant and inspiring story of love and war, trials and tribulations, and finding oneself."-Blogger Susan, A Soul Unsung "
  • In The Next Room ""the relationship between Penna and her mom... was complicated and broken at times, but ultimately very powerful."- Zoe"
  • I Devour Books "" While He Was Away was a very moving, very well written story, and it sucked me in almost from the beginning."-Kreag"
  • Fictionators ""I loved that even though [Penna] felt weak, she made herself be strong"- Kassiah"
  • Blkosiner's Book Blog ""...once I opened the book, I did not want to put it down." - Brandi"
  • The Book Whisperer ""Schreck's story will tax and strain your emotions, as well as, consume your attention way after the last page"- The Book Whisperer "
  • 365 Days of Reading ""...a subtly hopeful, emotionally moving novel."- Lauren "
  • Confessions of a Bookaholic ""I did really enjoy[ed] Karen's writing style and realistic portrayal of a young couple dealing with being apart."- Blogger Jessica, Confessions of a Bookaholic"
  • To Read or Not To Read ""... a powerful story about coping with change."- Blogger Marcie, To Read or Not To Read "
  • LC's Adventures in Library Land ""...about everything I could ask for in a book!"- Blogger Lea, LC's Adventures in Library Land "
  • Justin's Book Blog ""I loved these characters."-Blogger Justin, Justin's Book Blog "
  • Esther's Ever After ""It keeps tugging at your heart, and it just doesn't let go."- Blogger Brenna, Esther's Ever After "
  • Shortie Says ""Inspiring, hopeful, and eye-opening...This story is so much more then a boy who leaves a girl for Iraq." Blogger Jena, Shortie Says "
  • Emily's Crammed Bookshelf "Schreck did an amazing job with keeping things interesting."
  • Librisnotes ""a nuanced recounting of love, loyalty, loss, forgiveness and healing across three generations."- Blogger Librisnotes "

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