Sunday, January 10, 2016

Three Reasons to Read How to Be Brave

Although receiving review copies from publishers should not be any blogger's driving goal, it's certainly a great perk of the job. I love being surprised with an early copy of a highly-anticipated novel—I love that my wait is shortened, and I love confirming to other readers that yes, this is a novel worth reading. But I also enjoy discovering new novels through review pitches. So when I received an email about How to Be Brave, I felt immediately intrigued; I hadn't heard much about the novel, but it sounded like an emotional-yet-fun contemporary. It turned out that my preconceptions were exactly right, and this blend of sadness and levity was one of three main reasons that I enjoyed How to Be Brave.

the book

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release: November 3, 2015
Source: Kaye Publicity
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.

three reasons to read it 

When I started reading How to Be Brave, I worried that the storyline would grow dull and repetitive, becoming a duplicate of other novels about overcoming grief. After all, the plot does contain many previously-done elements: a girl recovering after the death of a parent, a healing romance, a bucket list, and more. However, my concerns were unfounded; Kottaras keeps the story original and engaging by perfectly blending the melancholy with the fun and uplifting.

Georgia's story contains plenty of somber scenes as she reflects on her mother's life, illness, and eventual death (and as she struggles to maintain ties with the people who are still in her life)—enough to make even less-emotional readers feel heartbroken. And yet, each stretch of sadness is broken at the perfect time by an enjoyable event, from marking off an item from the bravery list to reconnecting with a friend, which keeps the plot surprisingly upbeat. How to Be Brave is not so much a story about grief as it is a story about living life, which is a theme to which every reader can relate.

Nearly every character and relationship in How to Be Brave is realistically imperfect. The protagonist meets a new friend with destructive habits (and dabbles in them herself), tries to connect with her emotionally distant father, and navigates an increasingly unsteady relationship with her best friend. Through it all, Georgia herself grows more confident and talented, growing up significantly while still remaining human.

The only character who lacks flaws is Georgia's love interest Daniel, who falls into the classic YA boyfriend cliché; he's smart, sensitive, and going through an ordeal similar to Georgia's. However, the progress of their relationship is so imperfect and rocky that I forgive the slight stereotyping of the character himself.

Most of How to Be Brave is written in normal prose, but occasionally Kottaras switches to free-verse stanzas. I hadn't expected this style and was slightly taken aback at the first shift, but I quickly grew to appreciate the blended writing. The transitions are seamless every time, and the scarcity of the poetry draws attention to the emotions portrayed in each section. Each time the writing breaks into stanzas, the tone of the story becomes urgent, breathless, as if Georgia has much to tell readers but cannot transfer her feelings into words, and as a result, she becomes a raw and relatable character. I've seen this technique, using choppy lines of poetry to convey a sense of being overcome by emotion, once before (in Skyscraping by Cordelia Jensen), and I'm growing to love it.

Have you read How to Be Brave? And what other novels about overcoming grief would you recommend? 


  1. I think my favorite book about overcoming grief is Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira. I know of a few people that didn't really enjoy that book, but for me it was perfect. I was so invested in the story that I basically cried the whole time while reading it because I felt so sorry for the main character. From your review, How To Be Brave sounds a lot happier and upbeat than Love Letters to the Dead and I think that would be a lot easier to read. Adding this to my TBR for when I'm ready for an emotional read. :)

  2. I will put this one on my TBR it sounds like a book that I really will enjoy.

  3. Sounds like this one had realistic and flawed characters! The blended writing would be difficult to get used to for me. Lovely review!

    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

  4. I hadn't heard of this one before reading your post, but it sounds amazing Emily! It's a really talented author who is able to balance light and dark so well, and the fact that all the characters are so wonderfully developed makes me even more excited for it. :) Thanks for putting this under my radar, and fabulous review! ♥

  5. Ah, Emily, this hidden gem sounds lovely! I haven't seen this one pop up all that much, but I'm glad you brought it to my attention.

    I'm happy to read that the author balances the light and dark elements so well and, furthermore, that she maintains a realistic cast of characters, but I'm most intrigued by the combination of poetry and prose. I'm sure it would take me aback at first, as it did with you, but your review sold me on the method. I love an author who is willing to experiment.

    Terrific review! :)

    Bella @ Ciao Bella

  6. I'm so glad you liked it! I saw this and had to read it. :-) I bought this book at the very beginning of the year, with medium expectations. I thought it was okay, but sadly, it didn't stand out to me. I completely agree with you on all points- For the most part, it was a relatable story, and I was always interested in what would happen next, but something about it didn't capture my heart. :-/ Maybe in a few years I can read it again and enjoy it tenfold!


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