Personal Effects
(Candlewick Press, 2012)

Ever since his brother, T.J., was killed in Iraq, seventeen-year-old Matt Foster feels like he’s been sleepwalking through life – failing classes, getting into fights, and avoiding his dad’s lectures about following in his brother’s footsteps. T.J.’s gone, and the worst part is, there’s nothing left of him to hold on to. Matt can’t shake the feeling that if only he could get his hands on T.J.’s stuff from Iraq, he’d be able to make sense of his death. He wasn’t expecting T.J.’s personal effects to raise even more questions about his life.

Now, even if it means pushing his dad over the edge…

even if it means losing his best friend…

even if it means getting expelled from school…

Matt will do whatever it takes to find out the truth about his brother’s past.



“In an outstanding debut, Kokie tackles the tumultuous aftermath of a soldier’s death, as seen through the eyes of a sibling left behind. . . . Through raw moments and strikingly mature characterizations, Kokie explores loss, personal relationships, and the burden of preconceptions.” Starred Review, Publishers Weekly (Sept. 2012)

“Kokie’s stellar debut novel (Candlewick, 2012) is narrated by Nick Podehl who easily captures an unsure teenager’s emotional struggle. As Matt strives to find his own self-worth and uncover his brother’s TJ’s secrets, Podehl draws listeners in and keeps them invested in Matt’s story. He fluidly evokes the wide gamut of emotions that Matt experiences, while still maintaining a sense of underlying grief throughout. The expert narration coupled with a powerful and heartfelt story make this audiobook a must-have for all high school and public library collections.” Starred Review (Audio Book), Jessica Miller, West Springfield Public Library, MA, School Library Journal (Pick of the Day, February 22, 2013)

“Kokie grounds readers so thoroughly in Matt’s misery that they will be as itchy to escape the brutal emptiness of life with his father as he is. Realistically, though the inevitable revelation and resolution bring peace to Matt, they do not heal his father; readers will just have to hope he can make it through. A fine addition to the literature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Kirkus (subscription required to read the complete review)

“In this gripping debut novel that doesn’t pull punches. . .Kokie beautifully crafts a story about the troubled relationships between an emotionally stunted father and his two sons. Both T.J. and Matt are forced to deal with their own pain in secret. A strong choice for reluctant readers and lovers of realistic fiction alike. –Richelle Roth, Boone County Public Library, KY, School Library Journal (January, 2013)

“Well written and heartfelt, [Personal Effects] provides much to discuss after the covers are closed. . . . The dialogue is authentic to the characters and the plot moves the story forward at a pace that allows reflection, but keeps the reader interested. This title is highly recommended for teen readers.” VOYA (August 2012)

“The author conveys Matt’s grief over T.J. and his fear of his father so palpably that the reader’s stomach tightens in empathy. . . . Kokie’s well-crafted debut novel depicts a military family with admirable complexity while tracing one young man’s hard-fought coming of age.” Horn Book (September/October 2012)

“This is a powerful book, full of many timely issues.” Autumn 2012 Kids’ Indie Next List

“First-time author E.M. (Emily) Kokie has written a no-holds-barred contemporary YA novel that is right up there with my all-time favorites of the genre.” —Richie Partington, Richie’s Picks (warning: contains spoilers).

“Kokie’s debut novel packs a wallop. . . . A phenomenal read, this book rings true on many levels – what it is like to work through loss and grief, what it’s like when you learn things about people you thought you already knew – things that challenge your certainty. . . . It will stay with you long after you’ve put the book down.” — Kelly Fineman at GuysLitWire

Personal Effects is a book for anyone who believes in ‘fighting for your country’ and anyone who doesn’t. It is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. The story is so complex, so deeply moving, so thoughtfully and beautifully written that I found myself reading it with my mouth open – unaware of everything else around me. I didn’t understand at all why one would become part of our military and now I do. Now I get it on a very deep level. I want everyone I love to read this book.” —Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award Finalist, Coretta Scott King Award winner, and Newbery Honor winner

“With a pen dipped in adrenaline, E.M. Kokie tells a harrowing story of profound grief and powerful honesty. Read it immediately.” — Ellen Wittlinger, author of the Michael L. Printz Honor winner Hard Love

Personal Effects is a courageous book about the anger and pain of loss, about our need to heal by touching and remembering. But most of all, Personal Effects is about different kinds of love: brotherly love, father-son love, young love, the love of friends, passionate love. Different kinds of love which are, like the colors in a prism, simply different reflections of Love with a capital L. ” —Francisco X. Stork, author of Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

“Timely, passionate, and political, Personal Effects is a story that needs to be told. And Matt Foster, Kokie’s powerfully written narrator, is just the voice to tell it. Heartbreaking and heart-opening at the same time.” —James Howe, author of The Misfits and Totally Joe

“The devastating power of secrets and grief are perfectly captured in Matt’s journey to finding the truth about his brother – and ultimately, himself.” — Jo Knowles, author of Jumping Off Swings and See You at Harry’s

Personal Effects is a smart, rugged, hugely insightful book that elevates an already soaring genre. E.M. Kokie glides along that fine line between comedy and tragedy to tell a sensational story. You’re gonna see this book in the front window of your local bookstore.” — Chris Crutcher, winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award





Read Chapter One  or  Audio Book Sample
Release Date:  September 11, 2012
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
ISBN-13: 978-0763655273
ISBN-10: 0763655279
Buy at:
A Room of One’s Own (Signed Available)
IndieBound (Or find your local Indie)
Barnes & Noble    iTunes
Powell’s     Amazon

Awards & Honors:

  • Lambda Literary Award, Finalist
  • SCBWI Crystal Kite, Finalist
  • IRA Children’s and Young Adult Book Award, Honor Book
  • YALSA Best Fiction For Young Adults
  • YALSA Amazing Audiobooks, Top Ten
  • ALA’s Rainbow List
  • Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
  • CCBC Choices
  • Bank Street Best Books of the Year, Outstanding Merit
  • Read On Wisconsin List
  • Wisconsin Battle of the Books Title
  • Arkansas Teen Book Award List
  • Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards nominee