How to Be Brave

by E. Katherine Kottaras

Reviewed by SA

This book is the actual definition of heartwarming. It left me feeling all warm inside, feeling so good about what I had just read. It’s a book about bullying, about insecurities, about experimenting, and loss: it brought back a whole mountains of feelings I hadn’t felt since high school, and had me more emotional than i could have ever anticipated.

Summary

Reeling from her mother’s death, Georgia has a choice: become lost in her own pain, or enjoy life right now, while she still can. She decides to start really living for the first time and makes a list of fifteen ways to be brave – all the things she’s wanted to do but never had the courage to try. As she begins doing the things she’s always been afraid to do – including pursuing her secret crush, she discovers that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But once in a while, the right person shows up just when you need them most – and you learn that you’re stronger and braver than you ever imagined.

Georgia, our main protagonist, is one of the most down to earth, relatable characters I have ever read in contemporary YA. She’s slightly overweight, self conscious, she struggles in chemistry, she’s got a crush on a boy in her art class, and she has no idea what she wants to do after high school. Not to mention that she has just lost her mother, her best friend, her strongest support. I can’t imagine going through what she goes through.

This leads her to write a bucket-list-but-not-really: she writes down 15 things she has always wanted to do, but never had the courage to. To honor her mom, she wants to be brave and try new things. Some of them seem a little daunting: like sky diving, or trapeze… while others, well, they’re a little more down to earth, but terrifying as well: try tribal dancing, or learnt to draw, ditch school or even ask out her crush. Spurred on by her friend Liss, she decides to go for it. From here on, it’s a story of growth: it’s a story of a young woman who throws herself into life, and pushes herself to be the person she has always wanted to be.

I loved the growth of her character in this novel. She thinks positive thoughts through the day, and slowly begins to really believe them.  The last few chapters are amazing: Georgia stands up for herself, revealing some rather heartbreaking truths, she becomes more honest, for self assured. She slowly finds direction and allows herself to be her own person. It’s a fantastic story, one I think teens need to hear. Being brave isn’t just about doing dangerous things: here, being brave is about being honest and true to yourself, and the ones you love.

Speaking of the ones you love, there are some amazing characters in this novel. Liss is one of those friends you need to have in your life. Evelyn is one of those people who just doesn’t seem to fit in, and yet she needs friendship more than anyone can imagine. Daniel, her crush, isn’t some paper-cut-out love interest: he’s got depth, struggles, and shortcomings. I loved how this romance wasn’t the main focus of the novel at all, and instead it was Georgia’s growth that takes center stage.

This book is unique int he way it ties prose to verse. The poems are generally about her mother, focusing on what she was like when she was alive, as well as her days suffering in a hospital. It’s a beautiful way to remember her mother, while it might be a way to dissociate from the pain of those last days. I loved how these poems become a part of the narrative, without once saying ‘hey, I wrote a poem, read it.’ They were simply there, showing us more about Georgia’s perception of the world than we could learn from prose.

You know you really loved a book when you don’t know where to stop with the review. I want to talk about Georgia’s mother; I want to talk about her relationship with her father, or with her art teacher; I want to talk with someone on whether they thought Georgia was body positive or skinny shaming; or on whether weight loss was the result or the cause of a confidence boost; I want to talk about Evelyn, about when the signs started to appear.

This book has some very important, difficult themes, such as loss, depression, drug use, bullying, which is surprising seeing as how light hearted it seemed at first. This book somehow managed to be both fun, and deep, and is a definite must read for any high school student, or anyone who wants to learn how to really be brave.

The novel comes out on November 3rd, from St Martin’s press.

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