Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave

Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost BraveSurvival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White
Release Date: June 9th 2015
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Pages: 320
Source: NetGalley

Survival Strategy #50: If You Can, Be Brave.

After their mother's recent death, twelve-year-old Liberty and her eight-year-old sister, Billie, are sent to live with their father, who they haven't seen since they were very young. Things are great at first; the girls are so excited to get to know their father – a traveling photographer who rides around in an RV. But soon, the pressure becomes too much for him, and he abandons them at the Jiffy Company Gas Station.

Instead of moping around and being scared, Liberty takes matters into her own hands. On their journey to get home, they encounter a shady, bald-headed gas station attendant, a full-body tattooed trucker, free Continental breakfast, a kid obsessed with Star Wars, a woman who lives with rats, and a host of other situations.

When all seems lost, they get some help from an unlikely source, and end up learning that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.

There is nothing “almost” brave about Liberty. Without a doubt, she is one brave twelve year old. While internally she is freaking out about being abandoned at a gas station, she mainly keeps it together as she tries to get her and her sister back to the only home they’ve known. Her strategies, while dubious, keep both her and her sister alive and mostly out of harm’s way on their adventure.

As they make their way across the states, you can’t help but cheer them on. Every turn of the page, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the time they’d finally get caught. Maybe they’d finally reach their mother’s friend, Julie, back home. Liberty’s quick thinking gets her and Billie out of many sticky situations. Just as often, though, they find themselves in equally dire circumstances.  Not everything can go according to plan.

I love how the story used flashbacks to fill you in on the missing pieces. It was done in a way that wasn’t confusing and only enhanced the story. I’ll admit that my heart broke several times learning what had landed them in their current predicament. Both Liberty and Billie were so desperate for their father’s love, but he just wasn’t capable of giving it. His mental illness/obsession took over, and he could barely perceive that the girls were there most days. There are glimmers that make it obvious that he wants to be the father they deserve, but he falls short time and time again. I appreciate how White shows how mental illness can take over and entrap a person even as they fight it, and how everyday things quickly become all-consuming and overwhelming.. Mental illnesses are rarely easy for the person or loved ones to deal with, something that White shows with grace.

The only thing that made me hesitate a little was the girls’ fear of the authorities. I could understand avoiding the creepy gas station man, but I never fully understood why they were so scared of the police catching them. Liberty’s fear kept them running and lead to stealing, lying, and many other questionable acts. I got a sense that Liberty was scared they’d be separated, but there was nothing in their past that would cause that nagging fear. If they had been placed in foster care after their mother’s death it would have worked, but it seems like Julie took over care right away. The only other explanation is that her mom said she was responsible for Billie now, but I don’t think that should have driven her to avoid all adult help. Of course, it was a necessity for the plot, but I wish there had been more explanation/backstory to it. I doubt the intended audience will be bugged by this, but it was something that annoyed me a little as an adult.

Final Verdict: A nice, fast-paced middle grade story that has humor, adventure, and a lot of heart.

Book Review: My Life Undecided

Book Review: My Life UndecidedMy Life Undecided by Jessica Brody
Release Date: June 2011
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher

Here’s the deal. My name is Brooklyn Pierce, I’m fifteen years old, and I am decisionally challenged. Seriously, I can’t remember the last good decision I made. I can remember plenty of crappy ones though. Including that party I threw when my parents were out of town that accidentally burned down a model home. Yeah, not my finest moment, for sure.

But see, that’s why I started a blog. To enlist readers to make my decisions for me. That’s right. I gave up. Threw in the towel. I let someone else decide which book I read for English. And whether or not I accepted an invitation to join the debate team from that cute-in-a-dorky-sort-of-way guy who gave me the Heimlich maneuver in the cafeteria. (Note to self: chew the melon before swallowing it.) I even let them decide who I dated!

Well, it turns out there are some things in life you simply can’t choose or have chosen for you—like who you fall in love with. And now everything’s more screwed up than ever.

The Short of It: A fast read that ultimately quite fun. I had a bit of trouble with the predictability and some depth issues, but overall enjoyed it.

Plot: I suppose you could say this book is a cautionary tale about doing the right thing. Brooklyn’s life is a mess and is in a complete downward spiral, mainly due to her “best friend” aka puppeteer. The same best friend who lets her take the fall for a crime they both committed. Brooklyn is let off the hook easy with community service hours in a, wait for it, nursing home. Why must community service always be in a nursing home? One were they’re paired up with a grouchy old person who they end up connecting with. Tell me, when does this happen in real life? Yes, it’s sweet, but so overused. The blog was a fun aspect. Something I can see someone, especially a teen, doing. In fact, I’m pretty sure it has been done on a lesser scale (like choosing what I’m wearing today). I’ll even say I can say the choices were ultimately believable. Not because they were the “right” thing, but because they landed Brooklyn in embarrassing/no fun situations like being on the debate team, trying out for rugby, and skipping a hot club opening. Brody was pushing that her voters were pointing her in the right direction, and maybe some of them were, but I doubt most of them were. Of course, there’s no saying how many of her voters were teenagers. Perhaps some were adult-ish age who would point her in the right direction. The only true issue I had with the book is that Brody glossed over some serious issues. I felt like she could have done so much more with those conflicts, especially where Mrs. Moody and her son were concerned since she was in the majority of the book. I felt like the issue with her sister was needlessly thrown in as another way to show Brooklyn that no one was perfect. Brody could have shown this many other ways that she could have brushed by easy, but the issue she choose really deserved a little more page time. (Sorry for being vague, I’m trying not to give anything major away.)

Characters: Brooklyn overall is a very likable character. Even when she is being stupid, you can’t help but root for her. She can be a bit bratty at times, but the majority of the time she is funny and even a bit charming. I enjoyed seeing her transformation from being a stuck-up princess to someone who is more down to earth and caring. It was nice to see her find her footing and discover who she really was. It was kind of ironic to see her go from one person telling her what to do to a couple of dozen, but at least the blog readers sent her in the right direction. And in the end, she was finally ready to follow her own destiny rather than let others decide it for her. She got several cheers from me when she finally reached that point. I was left with the feeling that she would continue down that road and would end up at a happy future.

Romance: Ah, the classic bad, charming boy verse the geeky, loser boy. I hate ruin who she ends up with, so I won’t say much on it. However, the outcome was is quite predicable. I could see who she would end up almost from the start. Not only does one get so much more page time, but he also fits better into her lifestyle. That being said, I’m glad she ended up with who she ended up with. He’s cute, charming, and will definitely treat her like a true princess and an equal at the same time. Their scenes were hands down my favorite and would have liked to see them together even more than they were.

Writing: Beyond what I’ve already talked about, I have no issues with Brody’s writing. Her books have this charming quality that makes them likable even if they do have a few issues. She does well at pacing and has created another fast, witty read that most middle school/early high school girls will eat up.

Librarian-Mode: I would definitely hand over Brody’s other book The Karma Club to anyone who liked this one. Beyond that I would consider Tweetheart by Elizabeth Rudnick, Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson, and Four Things My Geeky-Jock-of-a-Best-Friend Must Do in Europe by Jane Harrington. So, now it’s your turn…have you read My Life Undecided? If so, be sure to let me know what you thought.