I wasn't sure about this book at first, Penna was incredibly dependent on David...and she didn't even have any other friends. I'm not a fan of co-dependent relationships, so it kind of put me off, but I hoped that Penna would evolve into more of an individual...and she did. While He Was Away transformed from a book about about a romance between a girl and a soldier, into something more. I was really expecting this book to be all about the romance. The description heavily suggests that it is after all, but I found this book to be more about Penna by herself. I'm sure some readers probably clung to the romance aspects, but I felt that the moments where David was present were just too minimal to really govern the story, and it made it difficult to get to know him. Instead, I focused on Penna making new friends, and discovering things that she was passionate about...like trying to find out more about her grandmother, Justine.Penna's search for Justine was my favourite part of this book. I absolutely loved it, especially since it involved her mother, Linda, too. I loved seeing the generations of women in their family, and how family can help you cope with things. I also loved that Penna opened herself up to making friends. I was actually really sad for her...she'd lived in Killdeer for about a year and she hadn't gotten to know anyone her age other than David. Once David left...it was even worse. Penna hadn't made a single friend to hang out with now that David was gone. I was so glad when Penna's mom dragged her to work at her restaurant, Red Earth. It gave Penna something to focus on, and it brought her to Cailtin, and through Caitlin, Jules. I loved Penna's blossoming friendships. Cailtin was so dramatic and awesome. Jules was an army girlfriend, too, so she was able to help Penna cope, and gave her advice. I loved how both girls encouraged Penna to go out and live her life, and when she needed them, they were there...and when they needed Penna, she was there, too. Overall, I really liked While He Was Away. Although, for me it wasn't so much about romance, it was about a girl living her life despite the fact that the one she loved was away from her. It showed Penna coming out of her shell, and opening up to others. Along with friendship, this book was about family, and the obstacles that can come up in life...most of all, this book was about being yourself, even if that's not who you used to be.