Book by Tim O’Brien
Review Kathryn Clark
Department of Political Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tim O’Brien introduces his readers to the men in his unit while serving in Vietnam.  Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carries a picture of Martha, the girl who is not his girlfriend.  Kiowa was a devout Baptist and carried a copy of the New Testament with him along with a pair of moccasins.  Rat Kiley carried a diary and Henry Dobbins used to drape a pair of his girlfriend’s panty hose around his neck for good luck (O’Brien, 2009).  All of the soldiers in the unit had tangible things that they carried but they also carried a weight that wasn’t as easy to shed.  They carried guilt for the loss of a fellow soldier.  They carried shame for almost dodging the draft.  The weights they carried couldn’t be left behind and for some of the soldiers in O’Brien’s unit, they carried these intangible weights for more than twenty years after returning home from war.

While the young men in The Things They Carried served in the Vietnam War, they are not that different from the student veterans on college campuses today.  Academic advisors are working with an increasing number of student veterans.  This population of students is choosing to pursue higher education as they are carrying many of the things O’Brien discusses.  “You come over clean and you get dirty and then afterward it’s never the same” (O’Brien, 2009, p. 109).  As these student veterans are facing the normal transitions to higher education, they are also facing the struggle of transitioning from military life to civilian life.  And their civilian life will not be the same as it was before their military service.  Reading this book will give advisors a small look into the emotions and events that these soldiers have faced.  The reader will find him/herself becoming attached to the characters and feeling a sadness when one is killed in action, or wounded and has to leave the unit.  Having that experience as a reader doesn’t even compare to the individuals who have lived through the stories and built the bonds with their fellow soldiers.  However, O’Brien does an excellent job of bringing light to the issues of war and the struggles which oftentimes follow the soldier home.  

While the book does not touch on academic advising, it provides an inside look into the lives of a growing population of students on campuses across the country.  O’Brien does an excellent job of painting the imagery of the experiences the soldiers are experiencing.  The reader will feel the discomfort of the endless rain and wet feet and the tiredness that comes with keeping watch throughout the night.  From this book, an advisor can hope to gain better insight to a growing population of students and to create a safe space for student veterans.  The book pulled me and I found myself wanting to know more about their experiences.  I would recommend this book to anyone but especially feel that advisors can learn important lessons about this growing population of students.

The Things They Carried. (2009). Book by Tim O’Brien. Review Kathryn Clark. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 256 pp. $14.95, (paperback), ISBN # 978-0-618-70641-9
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