Book Review: How to Be Brave


Book Review: How to Be BraveHow to Be Brave: A Novel by E. Katherine Kottaras
Release Date: November 3rd 2015
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Pages: 272
Source: Library

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.

I’m a bit mixed on how I feel about How to Be Brave. There are so many good things about this book, but at the same time there are some problematic things as well. The heart of the story is about Georgia and her dealing with the grief of her mother’s death. In a note that Georgia forces her to write, her mother tells her to do everything and to be brave while doing it. This sets Georgia to make a list with her best friend, Liss, of 15 things she’s always wanted to do/thinks she she should do.

The list itself is fine, but I questioned how the list made her tailspin out of control. Georgia is painted as a good girl who rarely, if ever gets into trouble. However, one day of cutting class and eating a bite of pot brownies sends her off the deep end. After that first time, she states she doesn’t cut too much “just once or twice a week”;getting high is the main event for these days as well. Last time I checked 2 times a week, even for a couple of weeks, is a lot. And the thing is she doesn’t stop on that day she’s called out by the teacher. As a goody-goody, it just seems so out of character that she would have a 180 that fast. Being brave or not, just seems like a really quick spiral and slightly unrealistic that no one at school would notice how many days are adding up and not mentioning something more about it. Her dad doesn’t even find out for another month and a half later when her art teacher calls and rats her out. (At least about the cutting class, the pot-use doesn’t come until much later)

The relationships (family, friends, & romantic) ring quite true. I love the ups and down of her and Liss’ friendship. Even their fight was highly realistic. Who wouldn’t get mad at a friend for screwing up like Georgia did, even if the bad pot was to blame. I love how honest Liss always is with her. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything, which makes her an often abrasive, but awesome character. And her relationship with her father. That whole having a parent be in your life, but not really seeing you and expecting you to be something that you’re not. I’m sure every teen can relate to that. It wasn’t even that he didn’t care/had a bad relationship, her dad was just too busy to see the truth. It was obvious that he loved her, he simply needed to be more proactive in her life, especially now that her mother is gone.

The idea of weight is where we get back into the problematic area. I want to start with Georgia first. She’s a size 16 and considered fat. I have no problem with that. As someone who fluctuates between a size 16 or 18, I do consider myself fat. However, it’s the descriptors that follow that size 16 that don’t work. First passage appears on 27

…I hoist my one-hundred-and-blah-de-blah self (the exact number is irrelevant and supersecret)…

This is where height is totally needed. If you’re say me, at  5’6, well,  I was a size 16 at 220. However, if Georgia is 5’3 or shorter than it’s plausible.  This is why height is so, so, so important. They paint a more accurate, although still not perfect, picture.

Then on page 242 we get this

..It’s called minus ten pounds…By all official medical charts, I should technically lose another 15 pounds.

There is no way that someone who only needs to lose 25 pound is a size 16. Using myself as the example again, when I’m a size 16 to be considered normal by medical standards I would need to lose another 70 pounds. I know this will vary from person to person, but the numbers just don’t add up! [edit: I should have said again this is where we need height/body shape instead of just dismissing it completely. It’s still important to press that a size 16 isn’t the same for everyone. We need more as a reader than just a few random numbers to make it believable/realistic.]

However, on the flip side, some of the things that Georgia has to go through are so relatable. Of course, she’s teased, which can happen at any size, but there’s a scene that took me straight back to my own childhood

I was twelve and I couldn’t find a pair of jeans in the Macy’s junior department that could fit me. I sat on the floor of the dressing room, sobbing. She had to take me to the adult section, where all I could find were this ugly, old-lady jeans that gave me high water.  pg 135

Oh man, I’ve been there. Although, for me it was that I was stuck in stretch pants (yes, I was a child of the late 80s/90s), but the rest rang true. When you’re a plus-size person shopping for clothes is so hard. A+ to Kottaras for capturing that so well. There are also plenty of passages where weight does not hold Georgia (or her mother) back from living life. And by the end, Georgia seems pretty solid in the skin she’s in.

While I’m on weight, I would be remiss not to talk about her mother. This is a spot where I wish there was more information on her mother. We know that she’s a size 24, but no height or weight mentioned. We know that she’s been sick with diabetes, kidney failure, and heart problems for a long time. Many people say that they took her mother’s weight as the cause of all the health factors plus her death. I’m a bit torn on this one myself. The implications are definitely there, especially when you take in the fact that her mother’s doctor told Georgia “don’t let this happen to you.” However, fatshaming by doctors is a very real thing. I’ve seen it happen to so many of my friends (and to an extent myself) that it’s not even funny. And of course, diabetes is tied often to weight, but it’s not the only cause. I think the one passage that give me a little pause is the following:

She could have done it. She could have controlled her sugar and eaten right and walked more, like she said she was going to, but she never did. Instead, she let herself gain weight and she didn’t control her sugar….pg 256

There are so many ways to read it. You can read it as the weight caused it all. Or you could read it as something bigger. Why wasn’t she controlling her sugar? And was it just sugar in food or was she not taking her medication to get her balance right? There’s such a lack of information surround her mom and her health. With all the stereotypes that being overweight means you’re unhealthy, it’s easy to see her mom and her death as something gross. My gut says there must have been so much more going on, but with the lack of information it’s truly hard to say what.

There is also a bit where someone tries to commit suicide. I wasn’t going to mention this part, but it keeps nagging at me. For me, it felt like a plot device. How it happened and how Georgia was involved allowed her to vent her frustrations about her mother not owning up to her problems/making Georgia and her father handle the final, crucial decision. It felt a bit out of place and nothing more than a way to tie up some loose ends. However, I will fully admit that I may be highly sensitive to this topic and that many readers won’t give it a second thought.

I know that I’ve pulled out quite a bit in the problematic area, but truth be told I did enjoy the story. I want to end with one of my favorite quotes, and one of the many things that readers take away from this book

But being brave isn’t about living every minute exhilarated. It’s about waking up and knowing that despite the worry and the sadness and the deep, dark fear, you’re going to go forth anyway. That you’re going to try anyway. That you have  choice, and you’re going to choose to live, today, bravely.

 

Final Verdict: A decent read, but not one without flaws. In fact, this will still be one I probably tell my teens to check out.

30 Day Reading Challenge: Week 2

I fell a bit behind this week, but I hope to catch up next week. Here’s what I read


30 Day Reading Challenge: Week 2Asking for It by Kate Harding
Release Date: August 25th 2015
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Pages: 272
Source: Library

Every seven minutes, someone in America commits a rape. And whether that's a football star, beloved celebrity, elected official, member of the clergy, or just an average Joe (or Joanna), there's probably a community eager to make excuses for that person.

In Asking for It, Kate Harding combines in-depth research with an in-your-face voice to make the case that twenty-first-century America supports rapists more effectively than it supports victims. Drawing on real-world examples of what feminists call "rape culture"—from politicos' revealing gaffes to institutional failures in higher education and the military—Harding offers ideas and suggestions for how we, as a society, can take sexual violence much more seriously without compromising the rights of the accused.

Whew, this was a doozy of a book, but in a good way. This is a book that everyone needs to read no matter the gender. It’s fitting that I read it right before that horrid Bloomingdale’s ad appeared. Rape culture is far from being conquered and the only way we’re going to do so is if we continue to talk about it and correct our behavior.


30 Day Reading Challenge: Week 2Don't Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche
Release Date: September 13th 2016
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 304
Source: Library

Michelle and her little siblings Cass and Denny are African-American and living on the poverty line in urban Baltimore, struggling to keep it together with their mom in jail and only Michelle’s part-time job at the Taco Bell to sustain them. Leah and her stepbrother Tim are white and middle class from suburban Maryland, with few worries beyond winning lacrosse games and getting college applications in on time.   Michelle and Leah only have one thing in common: Buck Devereaux, the biological father who abandoned them when they were little.   After news trickles back to them that Buck is dying, they make the uneasy decision to drive across country to his hospice in California. Leah hopes for closure; Michelle just wants to give him a piece of her mind.   Five people in a failing, old station wagon, living off free samples at food courts across America, and the most pressing question on Michelle’s mind is: Who will break down first--herself or the car? All the signs tell her they won’t make it. But Michelle has heard that her whole life, and it’s never stopped her before....   Una LaMarche triumphs once again with this rare and compassionate look at how racial and social privilege affects one family in crisis in both subtle and astonishing ways.

I enjoyed this one. There were a couple of little things that were problematic, but overall I loved the road trip aspect and the economic differences. Not to mention there were a lot of heartstrings pulled involving absent parents and what it means to be a family. This one easily was added to me booktalk list.


30 Day Reading Challenge: Week 2How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras
Release Date: November 3rd 2015
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 288
Source: Library

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.

I have a larger review for this one, which will go up on Wednesday. I liked the book, but it did have some things that made me raise my eyebrows. However, some of the scenes and quotes were amazing. It’ll be one I will still tell the teens about, but wasn’t good enough to be one I booktalk.


30 Day Reading Challenge: Week 2Non Non Biyori by Atto
Series: Non Non Biyori #1
Release Date: June 30th 2015
Publisher: Seven Seas
Pages: 180
Source: Library

Welcome to the countryside village of Asahigaoka, a quaint town far-removed from the hustle-and-bustle of the big city. You couldn’t imagine a more isolated setting in all of Japan. So when Tokyo-raised elementary school student Hotaru Ichijo transfers to the tiny Asahigaoka Branch School due to her father’s job, she’s in the for the culture shock of her life!
Join Hotaru and her new friends, the eccentric Renge, and the mischevious sisters Natsumi and Komari, as they share daily adventures in the idyllic Japanese countryside.

This one was a cute and silly manga. Easily one that is good for my younger manga-readers. It is rated Teen, but judging from the first volume it’s going to be a mild one that can be handed to 5th grade and up with no issues.


30 Day Reading Challenge: Week 2Rose Guns Days Season 1 Series: Rose Guns Days #1
Release Date: September 22nd 2015
Publisher: Yen Press
Pages: 195
Source: Library

After suffering unprecedented disasters in World War II, Japan accepts the American and Allied Forces' terms of unconditional surrender. Now the citizens of a ruined nation, the people of Japan come together amid an influx of influences and immigrants and--cunningly, carefully--survive...This is the unrecognizable Japan to which the sharpshooting, sweet-talking womanizer Leo Shishigami returns three years after the war. Against this backdrop, in the spring of 1947, everything is set into motion when Leo meets Rose Haibara, the madam of Club Primavera...

Ahh, this manga totally reminds me of old school type stuff. It has this total Trigun feel to it that I love. It is definitely older teen though. While there has not been any nudity, there are women of the night and the main villain is a complete sexual predator who has made it known he has no problem taking what he wants. However, everything is implied but not shown, which makes me okay leaving it on my teen shelves.