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Maureen Hicks
The Gift Shop at the DMZ

Adult; Memoir; (Market)

When a Buddhist therapist contracts to counsel soldiers around the world, her ingrained opposition to war initially obstructs her view. Repelled but curious about military culture, her careful listening to servicemembers and families leads to empathy and understanding for their challenges. In postings from the US to Germany to Korea, serving soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, she learns to respect and serve those enduring trauma. When the too-rare sessions lead to a struggle with depression, she must reach out with letters to friends. Can a deeper study of Buddhism steady her? The immersion in military culture grows more savvy, sanguine beliefs — so she might wrest deep meaning from absurdity.
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 9.25 out of 10


Plot/Idea: The author offers up an intimate and soul-searching exploration of her time as an "MRC," spent counseling soldiers while grappling with her own challenges. Her story is rich and introspective as she reconciles her preconceptions with eye-opening encounters and circumstances.

Prose: Hicks's prose is candid, straightforward, and immediately engrossing. Her self-reflection and insights into human nature, belief systems, and mental health, are impactful. 

Originality: Hicks's narrative as a therapist who counsels soldiers worldwide is decidedly unique and fascinating. She offers honest reflections on her own growth and pain, while approaching her patients and their struggles with sensitivity, nuance, and clarity.

Character/Execution: The author intriguingly integrates her own Buddhist beliefs and worldview with a burgeoning understanding of the the military experience and the lasting impacts of trauma. Hicks's awakening is as compelling as the journeys faced by those she counsels. 

Date Submitted: January 08, 2024

Jobless, desperate, and panicky, Hicks took up work as “Military Resilience Coach” or MRC, (pronounced merk) providing “no records kept” counseling, social work, and resiliency coaching to military personnel. In this frank memoir, Hicks’s debut, she’s open about the deep misgivings she felt about the job, as an anti-war liberal with a keen interest in Buddhist teachings. Still, The Gift Shop at the DMZ recounts how she accepted the position and traveled to US military bases across the world on short assignments as an MRC, trying her best to help soldiers “reach a state of greater emotional peace” but stuck trying to perform “walking social work”—which she describes as “random schmoozing with people.” Clients, though, prove few as there is a fear among personnel that news of their therapeutic encounters will travel up the chain of command and affect their careers.

Not being terribly busy, Hicks spends time sightseeing and exploring the local cultures. She also tries best to practice what she preaches when confronted with anxiety and depression at Camp Casey in South Korea. Her innate interest in Buddhism helps her connect with lamas and nuns as well as other Europeans and Americans interested in Buddhist practices. This brings her a measure of peace and acceptance of her singlehood and loneliness.

Sedate in pace and tone, the memoir explores not just the psychological challenges endured by soldiers and their families that result from multiple deployments, but also exposes the attitudes of military top brass when it comes to understanding mental illness and trauma among army personnel. With its patriarchal norms of masculinity and rampant homophobia, the military comes across as a lumbering behemoth with one leg enmeshed in the past. Hicks’s candid description of her own struggles with anxiety and depression and her exposing of attitudes within the military makes this memoir an illuminating read.

Takeaway: A serene memoir about counseling US military personnel and families.

Comparable Titles: Sally Wolf’s Life of a Military Psychologist, Marjorie Morrison’s The Inside Battle.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A