While He Was Away Karen Schrek Book Review

It seems like the new trend in contemporary YA is to focus on the military, which to be honest, I find really cool. With Iraq and Afghanistan, lots of young adults are signing up for the military today and I think this crop of books really will speak to the experience of those people and those associated with them. While He Was Away by Karen Schrek is the first and definitely not the last military contemporary YA that I have read.

While He Was Away Karen Schrek Book Cover

While He Was Away

The plot of While He Was Away focuses on two characters – Penna and her boyfriend David. When David is deployed, Penna must learn to live without him and get her own life rather than focus one hundred percent on David. To be honest, for the beginning of the book she pretty much mopes around, eventually though she partakes in various experiences and makes new friends to adjust. PLUS she uncovers family secrets!

To be frank with you,  I thought Penna was super bland in the beginning of While He Was Away. Like, her defining characteristics are that she is artsy and about to be a senior in high school. When she moves beyond her angst and into connecting with her estranged grandmother, Justine, she becomes a lot more interesting. I think David will appeal to some people because he is sensitive, artsy and kind.

I think that a lot of military girlfriends will be able to relate to what Penna is going through with David. It seems like her fears of losing David are pretty common. Plus, she is a bit isolated at first with her strict focus on her boyfriend. We see how things like Skype chats mean everything. And, also, how long distance relationships really kind of suck.

However, I never fully connected with Penna. I don’t have much in common with her. She doesn’t have very good family relationships. She has no friends. She moves around a lot. None of my life experience relates to her. However, it was interesting to read about someone so different from me.

I did find parts of While He Was Away to be kind of repetitive. For example there was a lot about how Penna needed to write David cheery and upbeat emails and letters as well as send packages. I felt I got that point the first time it was made and didn’t need to read about it over and over.

While He Was Away is a relatively quick read. I mean, my intention was to read it while flying, but instead I whipped through it in the airport while waiting for my flight.  The ending is sort of ambiguous, I would have liked a clearer resolution. In all, While He Was Away by Karen Schrek wasn’t a bad introduction to contemporary military and a quiet sort of read. I’d recommend it if you are the sort of reader who likes a more subdued as opposed to in your face sort of read.

Disclosure: Received for review via Netgalley.

Other reviews of While He Was Away by Karen Schrek:

Bloggers Heart Books – “wasn’t a stand out for me

Gone With The Words – ” leaves you with a feeling of hope.”

Emilie’s Book World – ” a touching and moving story

About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. Stephanie Scott says

    Interesting trend about the military. Thanks for the review!

  2. Glad I didn’t request this one. It’s definitely not my thing. I prefer not to read about soldiers, or at least ones since 1980, mostly because I fear the books getting too political. The one exception for me is going to be Something Like Normal, which is supposed to be amazing.

  3. I just won this book from a giveaway. Not a huge fan of repetition in books. It (severely) bothers me because I like when the author assumes the reader is intelligent and can retain information. :-/ Definitely going to read it, but will maybe set my expectations a little lower.

  4. I’m still torn if I want to read this one, on one hand it sounds like it’ll be fabulous. On another? I am so over repetitiveness in reading. And lately? I need to connect to the characters early!

    I think I’ll give it a chance, but go in with lower hopes…

    -Jac @ For Love and Books

    • I am glad that you are still giving it a chance, I’d hate to dissuade someone from reading a book. I will say it’s not the best ever written, but it’ll do in a reading pinch, ya know?

  5. Hey, April! Thanks for linking my review! This hasn’t been my favorite book so far, and I totally agree about it being a subdued read. Great review. 🙂

  6. Huh. While military books are definitely interesting (and necessary, I think) it sounds like While He Was Away isn’t for me. Thanks for the review!

  7. I haven’t read any military books recently, but I know what you mean about it becoming a trend recently. I’ve seen quite a few new books where a major character is involved with the military. I’ll probably read one of the other ones (like Something Like Normal) before I get around to this one. I’m glad to know it was just okay – it helps set my expectations if I do decide to read it 🙂

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