The author recounts his transformation from boy to man, set against the backdrop of the Iraq War.
Havens’ debut memoir begins a couple of seasons after September 11, 2001, “as spring peeked up from the frozen ground,” but we first meet him on the day his grandmother dies. Feeling changed and vulnerable, he decides to transfer colleges and move in with a new group of friends. He’s your typical college kid—mostly interested in partying with friends—but that changes when America decides to invade Iraq in 2003. Havens feels frustrated with the blind faith his fellow Texans (and many Americans) have in President Bush, and he begins staging protests on his college campus. His extracurricular activity lands him in some trouble—he has several dust-ups with law enforcement, gets jeered by people in town, and a rift forms between him and his mother—but he keeps fighting to stop the war. Havens finds peace from his struggles in unlikely places: “More than anything else, the strip clubs were the one place where the war did not exist, the one place where I did not feel the need to rail against the injustice of everything,” he writes. This pastime, however, may seem to contradict his message of morality and equality. Havens reminds us that while the war may technically be over, its effects remain, as is the case with any military conflict; he cites sobering statistics of soldier suicides (“More U.S. soldiers died by suicide here at home in 2012 than died fighting the war in Afghanistan”) to prove his point. Havens’ mission in writing his story is admirable, but the execution sometimes falls short. While the writing is sincere—“The money, weed, people, and music…All of this only kept alive my desire to see the people of the world stop killing, raping, and hating each other”—it’s often somewhat artless. The prose also has the exceptional earnestness of a college student just discovering his interest in politics and social justice, which may inspire or annoy. Either way, Havens’ commitment to ending the war and his enthusiasm for peace is refreshing and comes across in his work.
A coming-of-age memoir that tries too hard to be a serious anti-war tome, though it’s an interesting look at liberalism in Texas.