Allison's Book Bag

If I Know It’s Coming by Nick Hupton

Posted on: January 22, 2014

Thirteen-year-old Tim Hansen lives in a normal adolescent existence in a quiet town and lives a normal adolescent existence until his mom is deployed to Iraq. In his debut novel, If I Know It’s Coming, author Nick Hupton creates an important story about how war can flip one’s calm life into turmoil. The problem for me as a reader is that apart from agonizing over his mother’s departure, Tim’s life amounts to doing what his best friend asks, talking to a girl he likes, and watching television. This might make for a realistic novel, but it doesn’t always make for captivating fiction.

If I Know It’s Coming has plot potential. Just having a parent gone for a few days can cause disruptions in the routine of a household. Even when the parent is simply visiting relatives elsewhere. For Tim and his sister, Jenna, their mom is being called to serve overseas in an enemy country, which raises the stakes. Nurses don’t normally get killed during war efforts, but the reality exists that their mom might never return. Moreover, because their mom works for the army, she can’t tell them details of her service nor can she predict how short or long she will be gone. This extra element of the unknown heightens the Hansen family’s anxiety. To return to our original scenario, if a parent who has plans to only be gone for a few days fails to check-in for a scheduled call, the disruption to a household becomes even greater because one tends to live by the phone. For the Hansen family, that happened one Sunday when they didn’t receive the expected call. Moreover, despite letters and calls being made by the dad to the army, the family also initially doesn’t receive any news. The family becomes more reluctant to leave the house, but also much edgier with one another. Tim and Jenna even began to get in trouble for taking off from family commitments without notice. As I said, If I Know It’s Coming has plot potential.

Unfortunately, the rest of Tim’s life isn’t all that dramatic. He tells about how he met his friend, Seth, while playing practicing baseball. It sounds as if once they had a great relationship. By the time we meet Seth, however, he has already become a world-class jerk. He invites Tim over to play video games, but then Tim ends up just watching him. He invites Tim to a party but then, despite knowing Tim got drunk, leaves without checking on him. And worst of all, he never shows any concern about Tim’s mom. Even when the family gets the news that she’s been hurt by a bomb. Their interactions become painful to read, which might have made for an interesting conflict, except I don’t know why Seth and Tim are still friends. Tim also tells us about a girl he likes, Nicole, and is shy to ask out. As in many boy-girl stories, we see him trying to figure out how to email her, call her up, ask her on a date. For one chapter. After that, the two of them start talking about the war. She has a cousin who is also in Iraq. Their interactions are pleasant enough to read, but don’t stir up any drama because the two immediately get along. Nicole becomes an almost instant friend. And stays that way. Perhaps, my biggest gripe is how often Tim’s life amounts to watching television sitcoms or recalling incidents from years past. The first might be realistic but it’s also frankly boring. As for the flashbacks, they tend to interrupt the flow of the story and result in a rambling style.

I appreciate how Nick Hupton portrayed the impact of war on the Hansen family. Tim and Jenna both stop talking to one another and withdrawing from their dad, because their anxiety level is too high to let one another close. Nick loses interest in activities at school and with friends, while Jenna begins to have fights with her boyfriend. Both also start paying more attention to the news and wondering what the purpose of the war in the Middle East is. Suddenly the high toll of lives lost becomes of interest and concern to them. Because the rest of the story holds low appeal, I consider If I Know It’s Coming a diamond in the rough. Which is enough to make me hopeful about the quality of Hupton’s next book, which I’ll review here on Saturday. 🙂

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