Review: How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of St. Martin’s Press & Kaye Publicity, Inc. Thank you!
Publication: November 3, 2015 by St. Martin’s Press
Verdict: Good/Very Good
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.
I have read more than few novels circled around the topic or idea of a bucket and/or life list: it can either make for a fascinating journey of character growth and life changes, or…it does not. I am happy to say that in E. Katherine Kottaras’ solid contemporary YA debut, the concept works. Interestingly, the idea of the life-list in How to Be Brave is not the be and end all of the story’s focus, but rather an inspiration and catalyst that makes for an emotional, painful, yet ultimately hopeful voyage.
I think that Kottaras made a bold and well-played choice in that Georgia- our protagonist- is not written as an always-likable or always-wise character. She makes big mistakes. She questions her abilities. She can be confident yet shy. She has her moments of being difficult, judgmental, angry, boy-obsessed, rebelling. I will say that I found the long-ish stretch of novel in which Georgia experiments in and delves into drinking and drugs a little unconvincing. But in all fairness, this experimentation is, arguably, an expression and outlet for many teens- and will likely be relatable to many teens (and adults).
In another intriguing move, Kottaras keeps the edgier and darker sides of Georgia from overwhelming the story by focusing on art, mortality, writing and poetry. Georgia, whose first person narrative reads as candid and informal, has lovely and heartbreaking and lyrical free verse passages- many of which are about her mom and her mom’s terrifying decline in health. This juxtaposition of brash and poetic is, I think, an effective and affecting way of showing Georgia’s complicated and mixed emotions of grief (in missing her mom so deeply) and aspirations (in breaking ground for a new future). On a small side note here, I want to note that I feel as though the cover of the hardcover edition (as nice as it is) does not accurately reflect this novel. Though we all know the adage to not judge a book by its cover, there may be readers thinking How to Be Brave is sugary, or fluffy, or that skews young. Kottaras’ debut touches upon some significant subject matters, and I don’t think this cover captures the essence of the novel (or of Georgia’s direct/mature narration).
Overall, How to Be Brave is a solid young adult debut: Kottaras has a fresh and frank voice to offer (a much welcome break from rehashed narratives in teen lit). While not entirely free of repeating some tropes, I think that How to Be Brave is a good and unexpected read. She has created an interesting and multidimensional character in narrator and protagonist Georgia, and I think readers will find a lot to mull over during and after finishing the novel. Readers who enjoy the contemporary work of young adult authors such as Julie Halpern, Shelley Coriell, Jessica Martinez, Laura Zielin, or Jennifer Salvato Doktorski might especially enjoy this title.
Now on to the giveaway!
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and Kaye Publicity, Inc., I have one new hardcover copy of How to Be Brave to giveaway to one lucky reader! A few housekeeping things: the giveaway is hosted via Rafflecopter; the giveaway will run from December 1 to December 9, 2015; the winning entry will be randomly drawn; the contest is open to Canadian and U.S. residents.
Click on the link below to the Rafflecopter entry page and follow the instructions to enter:
I received a copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.