Title: The Things a Brother Knows
Author: Dana Reinhardt
ISBN: 9780375844553
Pages: 245 pages
Publisher/Date: Wendy Lamb Books, and imprint of Random House Children’s Books, c2010.

“I used to love my brother.
Now I’m not so sure.” (1)

Levi Katznelson’s older brother Boaz has finally returned from serving overseas for three years as a marine. He is physically healthy, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that Boaz was affected in other ways. He’s locked himself in his room since his arrival home, sleeps on the floor while listening to radio static, refuses to ride in cars, and is planning a mysterious trip. While Boaz tells his parents that he’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, his browsing history on Levi’s computer tells a different story. No one seems to be worried about Boaz’s weird behavior, so Levi takes matters into his own hands and sets off after him. Will the journey divide these brothers even further, or will Levi finally find the brother he and the whole town idolizes.

Those first two sentences set the tone for the whole book, in my opinion. Behind this eye-catching cover, you really get a sense of the conflict that Levi feels towards his brother’s involvement in the war and the effects it has on Boaz. Everyone respects Boaz’s actions, and because of his association to his brother Levi is treated differently. Levi though doesn’t want any special recognition, because he doesn’t feel brave, and he’s not particularly happy with his brother when he arrives home.

Maybe I sound even worse than self-pitying: un-American or anti-American. That’s a tight spot to be in for a guy with a weird Israeli last name and a father with a thick accent who makes me call him Abba instead of Dad like wa all still live in Israel, but I’m neither of those things. I’m not un or anti. I just don’t know what to think about this whole big mess we’re in.
And who knows. Maybe that’s even worse than being un or anti, because at least then you know where you stand.(4)…
It’s been thirteen months.
That’s the last time he came hom.
He must have had some breaks in there somewhere, some leave time. But he chose to do something else with those breaks, and we don’t know what it was, or who he was with, or where he went, because somewhere along the road he’d decided that communication with the family he left behind wasn’t a priority.(9)

The emotions for this story is what Dana Reinhardt nails. Absolutely, positively NAILS, right on the head. A friend of a friend was in the marines, and I guess he’s expressed some of the same frustrations that Boaz feels. People think they can come up to this ex-marine and start talking to him, asking him questions, inquiring about his opinion of the war, sharing their own stories about service members they know, and thanking him for his service. Some service members though just want to get on with their own lives, and rejoin society.

Boaz though has difficulty doing this, and has strong impressions about what he needs to do and the stories he does and does not need to tell others. He isolates himself upon his return, and I think that’s because he feels isolated. This is also why he’s driven to take his trip, because he feels connected to his fellow marines as they are the only ones with whom he can truly relate.

Told from Levi’s perspective, we feel the same confusion, anticipation, and disappointment that Levi feels regarding his brother’s home-coming. It’s a little surprising how easy their travels unfold, but I don’t think readers will be bothered by it. There was a hint of romance that I don’t think was completely necessary, since the book is about Levi and Boaz, but it didn’t detract too much from the main problems.

One other minor thing that bugged me but wasn’t huge was that Boaz and Levi are Israelis, Levi goes to Hebrew school, his mom goes to synagogue, and the family celebrates Friday Shabbat. And yet, Levi uses phrases like “for Christ’s sake”. It was kind of jarring when it cropped up like that. I’m not Jewish, but do Jews use those kind of phrases? However, it’s a very minor quibble, and I enjoyed the story and the questions it raises, and I can see this as a good book discussion selection, especially for guys.