Thursday, 5 November 2015

'How to Be Brave' by E. Katherine Kottaras: A Book Review

An emotional contemporary YA novel about love, loss, and having the courage to chase the life you truly want.
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.

Note: I received an advance reader copy of this novel from St. Martin's Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

2015 seems to have been the year of heartbreaking ARC novels. From The Thing About Jellyfish to Days of Awe to Everything, Everything, books about death have really hit me hard. And judging by the plot blurb, I expected How to Be Brave to take me by storm, too. 

Did it? Didn't it? Read on to find out. 
I love books that can make me cry, because a) I love that sort of vulnerability and b) if I cry, it means the book actually made me feel. What more could a reader want?
Buuuuut How to Be Brave didn't make me shed a single tear.

See, the premise of the book isn't death itself. It's Georgia's quest to become brave so she can make her mother proud. And that's great, but her list is so... high school-y, it's hard to feel anything. Get drunk. Smoke pot. Go skinny-dipping. Sure, some items on the list are actually fun, but the rest make the book - the first half, at least - come across as incredibly clich├ęd.

Still, I love 'list' books. Mostly because I love lists - a trait I inherited from my dad - but also because of the will they/won't they. Will they check all the items on the list? What happens when they do? What happens if they don't?

Although Georgia never talks about her mother's death upfront, she writes poetic verses at the end of each chapter about her mom, her passing, and the emptiness of her life after. And those verses are what give the book substance, to be honest. Not the love story or the one-dimensional friendship or Georgia's weight loss struggles. It's the poetry that makes this book different.

Nevertheless, some quotes do stand out.

He sits now with a TV that is on, always on, his thumb on the arrow, the volume turned up, but it can't drown out the echoes of her laughter - it doesn't fill the room enough to make it silent inside his head. 

But being brave isn't about living every minute exhilarated. It's about waking up and knowing that despite the worry and sadness and the deep, dark fear, you're going to go forth anyway. That you're going to try anyway. That you have a choice, and you're going to choose to live, today, bravely. Maybe that's all any of us can do. Maybe that's all I can do.

Talking about the weight issue: Georgia struggles with a healthy body image, talks about how overweight she is, but the girl on the book cover seems normal to me. Definitely not how she describes herself. Also, Georgia often puts skinny girls down. In one scene, she even says something like, "Don't they know how to eat?"

Whoa, Georgia. Skinny-shaming is not okay, nor is putting other women down for their weight.

The book was also a little too dramatic and teenagey. I know books can't be completely realistic, but more than what happened, it was people's reactions to incidents that blew things out of proportion. That was a big minus for me.

The second half was a big relief. Georgia finally understands that her list is mostly utter bullshit. That's not what being brave means. Not even slightly. And then she proceeds to make amends, stops wallowing in self-pity and wins back her friend and makes a date with the guy she likes. Score.

I'm going to go with 3 stars out of 5 for this one. 
How to Be Brave tries hard to leave you feeling something for its characters, but doesn't quite exceed expectations. The ending does make up for the lackluster first half, but only just.  

This book released on November 3rd, 2015. Are you going to pick up a copy? And if you had to make a list of this kind, what items would you include? I'd go with 'let other people in', 'learn how to shoot a gun', 'sing karaoke', and 'confront the ghosts of my past'.

If you have any book recommendations, let me know in the comments below. If you want me to review your book, contact me via Facebook or email. See you next time, book Geeks! :)

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