Gooseberry Island: Steven Manchester
Before you can see the light you must erase the darkness that covers you. Coming out of the darkness and into the light requires seeing past your demons, striking out at your fears and leaving them outside the perimeter of your mind and body. But, when the dangers of war, the stench from the death of others, the jungle and the terrors you faced while serving your country are ever present within the recesses of your mind and soul, how do you cope with reality, life and even find inner peace?
David McClain chose to enter the service and become an Army Ranger. A decision that was well thought out yet would change his perspective on life, living and the way he viewed others forever. Assigned to the Fourth Ranger Battalion, headed for Afghanistan, David would enter a world, an environment and fight a war that was even more dangerous than the one on the battlefield. Along with his comrades Nathan, Max, Al and a special Lieutenant the plane takes off and they are about to enter a warzone so filled danger, land mines, explosives and people who are not afraid to die, that no one will come back the same.
Lives intersect for a reason and sometimes you meet someone that will bring something special into your life. Lindsey Wood met David the night before he was to shipped out and their simple encounter, their understanding, thoughts and words would sustain him for his time away. Emails, Skype, phone calls and words of encouragement, endearment and more these two young people had a connection that only time would tell if it would remain.
Lindsey had her own demons to deal with as her father Denis had served and was left dealing with his own mental issues relying on her to be there when things fell apart. All too often needing medical help, having to check into the VA we learn about what so many endured coming back and the true meaning of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and much more. But, this is just the tip of what some might say is the iceberg as Lindsey’s father often regressed, became drunk and at one point violent. How do you forgive yourself when you hurt the one you care about the most?
As David was fighting a war that would take more than just the legs of his best friend Al, his courage to help save his life another would lose more than that.
As two medics ran to help his friend Al what was going through David’s mind would haunt him forever as he went into the chopper along with his friend. Through it all Lindsey was steadfast and never wavered in her feelings for David, her support and her love. But, one incident would change it all as David and Nathan were went sent out on a mission that would never ever leave him truly whole again. Sent to take out the head of the Taliban he had to live within the confines of a small space. But, while on top of this flat surface a young boy was tortured, beaten and left to die, David requested being allowed to save him and the request was denied. How do you deal with someone so young dying when you know you could have saved him? Do you defy orders or do you follow what you were sent to do? What happens when you learn that the Intel you received was wrong and the end result could have been different for the young boy? “ I could have saved that poor kid,” David thought. This simple sentence would run through his mind many more times. The reality of the situation would change his perspective and then something else happens that causes him to snap. His father’s death did not make him want to fly home. What happens to his friend Max would cause him so much pain that you wonder if he will ever be able to cope with the realities of life ever again.
When his friend Max takes two roadside kills and tries to save the life of a child who tripped a roadside bomb, Max could not deal with the end result. Both returning home but not the same way the left each one fighting more than just the demons of war but an inner war that would take one life and literally and practically destroy another.
As Lindsey learns that David has returned David finds it necessary to push her away. Her friends supporting her all through his tour, never wavering with her love for him, she finds it hard to believe that he does not want her in his life. Pouts of fear, anger, depression, terror and reliving so many things that happened while he was away, David has to find a way to seek help but will he? His father gone, his mother needing support and a younger brother that is there for him yet David wanted no one and was following a deadly path similar to his friend Max.
The death of a friend should sober someone up and change his or her course in a different direction. When the VA and army did not find it in their heart or understanding to help Max deal with his mental and physical issues the end result would be a young boy would lose his Dad and David would lose himself. An encounter bar frequented by his friend brought to light what others thought about Max and why David felt it necessary to come to his friend’s defense. But, some debts are paid and others are still outstanding as David just might finally realize that he was headed in a downward spiral. But, drinking became his resolve and the end result was almost fatal as David just might learn the meaning of life by almost destroying his own. Promising his friend Max at his gravesite that he would always be there for his son, would he find his own way back to reality and life to do that?
David needs counseling and help and he finds the one person that he trusts to send him in the right direction but will he listen? When Lindsey wants back in his life and lets him know she will support him in every way will he once again turn her away or will he embrace the chance to be happy? What about her father? Can she leave him alone or is he so far gone with his own problems and mental issues that she will be linked to him and helping him forever? Author Steven Manchester delves into the catastrophes of war, the silent wars that soldiers face when coming home and the fact that not enough is done for them at the start when they return home.
Hear the screams of one man and see the three Afghan men, a small band of Taliban, raising their AK 47’s in your direction. How can you not remember that? Each soldier whether Afghans or ours has a wife and family that care for that person. So, when Max died David made a promise to always be there for his son Max Jr. but will he be able to fulfill that promise? Will he ever see the light? Gooseberry Island is so vividly described and seems magical at times casting a special spell over both David and Lindsey. So what is their future? Will they be together? When will David emerge from the darkness, life up his head and not keep it down and finally come into the sunshine and the light. A definite must read for everyone. The issue of counseling, caring and providing services for returning Vets and job opportunities are just some of what is brought to light in this novel. But, most of all the warning signs are given when someone is faltering, their mind is not focused on the realities of life and the signals for help need to be heard.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer
Let’s dedicate this to all of our men serving our country and to those that have come back.