E.M. Kokie's debut PERSONAL EFFECTS opens with her main character pulverizing the school's resident pacifist for wearing an anti-war t-shirt that lists his dead brother's name as a casualty. But the reader soon learns that for Matt, the hits keep coming whether he's the one throwing the punches or not.
When his older brother T.J. was killed in Iraq, all semblance of a normalcy was lost in the household that already had one ghost. Now without a mother or a brother, Matt has only the spotty affection of his dominant father, and pride that only surfaces at the mention of Matt joining the military when he turns 18 - something Matt has never wanted to do.
The only person who truly cares for Matt and knows him is his best friend Shuana, but that relationships has become strained as they grow up together, and his feelings bloom into something he doesn't think she'll ever return.
Lost and lonely, Matt waits for the day that T.J.'s personal effects will be returned to their home, hoping that he can find the guidance there that T.J. provided while still alive. But when they come, his dad locks them away, refusing to acknowledge T.J.'s death in the same way he refuses to read the condolence cards that still come in the mail.
When Matt finally gets up the courage to sneak a look inside the crates he discovers a different T.J., a person he never knew existed, with secrets that Matt was never meant to find out.