I had hopes that While He Was Away would be an eye opening, emotional experience for me, but unfortunately, it was not that. I understood it was about a girl's boyfriend being drafted and going off to Iraq, and the struggles she will be facing once he was gone. However, throughout the whole book I did not feel any emotional connection towards Penna. I felt like there were too many things going on in the book. Unnecessary things that do not have any relation to the main plot of the book but were added to just increase the page count. Penna needing so much to look for her long lost grandmother all of a sudden raised a lot of question marks for me. Her weird relationship with her mother and blaming her for everything just ticked me off. I felt like she was the most ungrateful child ever! Even though her mother sacrificed SO MUCH for her, she still treated her like dirt and that totally rubbed me the wrong way.
Then we've got her relationship with David's fallen out best friend Ravi. After David left to Iraq, Penna had only a handful of encounters with him but somehow the idea of more kept on wedging in to the plot. I was just so confused on WHY would Penna even need to assure herself multiple times that he is just David's friend. Even though all they ever did was exchange a few awkward conversations. Yes, the plot could have gone in that direction, but with barely anything happening and for her to feel that way was just absurd.
To be honest, what really made me so disconnected with all the characters was a scene that happened with David and Penna. They went on a website to play this game where the target was an arabic guy, and the point of the game was to shoot red paintballs so they will splatter all over him (as if he is bleeding). While Penna was hesitant, David told her "Think of 9/11, he totally deserves this". Now THAT was so unbelievably offensive towards me and such an unbelievable generalization that I was stunned for a minute or two. I am muslim and arabic and like the rest of the world, I was horrified by what happened on 9/11. I really hate how as soon as people hear arabs and muslims nowadays they associate it with the act of terrorism. Which is why it hurt a little to read about that incident and I just lost all connection with these characters, which was why I just couldn't get into the story. I do know the author wanted to portray the reality of how many people think, I respect her for that, but I lost all connection or care for these characters after that.
All in All, While He Was Away held promise, however the main plot was not strong enough and the addition of many secondary plots somehow ruined the overall experience of the book. I hoped for more emotional, soul searching type of book, but that was not what I got. However, as always, if the book seems interesting, pick it up! you might enjoy it way more than I did.