Battle Scars by Meghan O’Brien

What a pleasant surprise this book was for me. I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have bought if it hadn’t been picked as the January selection for a reading group I sometimes attend. I had tried to read a work of fan fiction by the author and I could not get into it at all. So I grumbled a bit when I found out I was going to have to lay out part of my meager book fund for Battle Scars.

I was wrong; my money was well spent. Ray McKenna and Carly Warner, our main characters, were well written and I could feel the pain and hope in each of them. Ray, a veteran of the Iraq war, was kidnapped and held captive for two months by insurgents, forced to watch the beheading of a fellow solider. She suffers from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and seems to have made only a small amount of progress over the nearly two years since her return to the United States. She meets Carly, a local veterinarian, when she takes her service dog, Jagger, in for a visit. Carly has had some serious emotional trauma, as well, and these two damaged women develop a strong, supportive friendship.

As a former US Marine, I usually have a difficult time with books that try to discuss military concepts, philosophy, and events but I didn’t feel that way with this book. The use of the word “rack” made me smile. There were plenty of things in this book that I could relate to, like growing up with a Vietnam vet who suffers from PTSD and alcoholism, one time having a big, beautiful, clumsy, blue Great Dane, having many German Shepherds, the stress of dealing with the military’s ban on gays, and the lingering feelings of helplessness that sexual assault can induce. Battle Scars made me think of how all of these things have affected my life and helped me to see just how much worse it could have been.

The only real issue I had with the book was the way the author dealt with the aspect of time passing . What felt like a few days or maybe a week or two to me was really a couple of months for the characters. I was shocked more than once by a comment made regarding the amount of time between events. I was happy to know that more time had actually passed than I initially thought, because otherwise the closeness of the characters would have been developing WAY too fast, but it still threw me off for a few seconds.

Battle Scars is a quick read that drew me right in and didn’t let me go. Both Ray and Carly have had emotionally devastating experiences but this book is about love and hope and dogs. Wonderful, supportive, loving dogs.

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