These Gentle Wounds by Helene Dunbar
Five years after an unspeakable tragedy that changed him forever, Gordie Allen has made a new home with his half-brother Kevin. Their arrangement works since Kevin is the only person who can protect Gordie at school and keep him focused on getting his life back on track. But just when it seems like things are becoming normal, Gordie’s biological father comes back into the picture, demanding a place in his life. Now there’s nothing to stop Gordie from falling into a tailspin that could cost him everything—including his relationship with Sarah, the first girl he’s trusted with the truth. With his world spinning out of control, the only one who can help Gordie is himself . . . if he can find the strength to confront the past and take back his future.
These Gentle Wounds is incredible in as many ways as it is unremarkable. On one hand, it's riveting, tense, and written in a simple, convincing voice. Other than an excessive use of similes, the writing is great. Dunbar obviously did her research on PTSD. Gordie's "spins" back to horrible memories are painfully realistic, and it's easy to sympathize with him. Besides suffering PTSD, Gordie is also intelligent, a little awkward, and super athletic - his personality doesn't consist of his tragedy alone, thank God. However, Gordie sometimes seems a little childish; not dramatically so, but I had to remind myself a couple times that he's fifteen. Overall his character is very strong, and I really liked him.
Gordie's brother, Kevin, who doubles as his protector, is just as well characterized. Dunbar allows him to be the perfect brother for Gordie without making him too good to be true. The boy's relationship is complicated but loving, and is one of the better aspects of the book. Sarah, Gordie's crush, isn't as well rounded as Gordie or Kevin. She gives a little insight into her life that keeps her from being completely flat, but she features into the story very little. Gordie spends more time thinking about her, and worrying about what she thinks of him, than he does actually being with her. Told from Gordie's perspective, though, the bittersweetness of first love is a satisfying addition to the story.
The main conflict of the story is the return of Gordie's biological father, a complete asshole if ever there was one. The final confrontation between him and his son was white-knuckle for me. The blunt, graphic way Dunbar chose to write it made it tense and affecting.
These Gentle Wounds is about recovery and family - two subjects that can easily get cheesy or overdone. Dunbar wrote starkly and emotionally about both, and the outcome was brilliant. In some ways, it reminds me of Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Admittedly, These Gentle Wounds is probably not the best book you're going to pick up this summer, but it's well worth the read and definitely deserves a place on your bookshelves.
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