Friday, November 13, 2015

Book Review: How to Be Brave

Title: How to Be Brave
Author: E. Katherine Kottaras
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: November 3, 2015
Source: Finished Copy from St. Martin's Griffin
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.

My Review

E. Katherine Kottaras is a new author on the YA bookshelves, but I have a feeling that readers will be seeing a lot more of her in the future. Her debut novel, How to Be Brave, is one that is full of a lot of the hot issues in YA books right now, and readers will certainly have a lot to say about this novel once they finish reading it.
While I enjoyed reading How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras, I wouldn't put it in my list of favorite books. It's a rather quick read, especially when you consider that it takes place during an entire school year, and a lot... seriously a lot happens. This book literally follows Georgia from her first to last day of senior year of high school. Sometimes, it felt rushed. Other times, I felt like I wasn't seeing enough of a certain event. In short, it frustrated me a bit to read about a whole year of school in just a few hours.

Okay... so what's How to Be Brave about? In a nutshell, it's a book about finding yourself when you're lost. It's a book about figuring out where you belong. Georgia Askeridis has recently lost her mother due to complications from diabetes. She's grieving, but she realizes that she needs to move on. So she takes a piece of advice from her mother. In a letter, Georgia's mother told her to "do everything." She wanted her daughter to "try it all once." Ergo, Georgia, with the help of her best friend, Liss, create a bucket list of things to do. It takes them most of the school year to get through the list, and some crazy... seriously crazy stuff happens in the process.

Most of the supporting characters in How to Be Brave don't play crucial roles in the plot, but they do provide additional story lines, some of them even paralleling Georgia's recent ordeal with the loss of her mother.

One of the most important supporting characters is How to Be Brave is Daniel. Georgia has had a crush on Daniel for a very, very long time, and he even makes a few appearances on her bucket list. As she gets to know him, she learns that his dad is not in great health, and it gives the two something to talk about during school. I really liked Daniel's story line, and I really thought that he was just a sweetheart. I can definitely see why Georgia thinks highly of him.

Then there's Evelyn. She's the new girl at school, and Georgia and Liss see her as a gateway to finish some of the things on the list after they meet her on a day when all three decided to cut class. Evelyn hasn't had the easiest of lives, and I honestly felt really bad for her. In all fairness, I didn't like how the girls treated Liss, but I was proud of Georgia at the end for owning up for her mistakes and allowing herself to truly befriend Evelyn.

There are also some other minor characters in the book, Avery and Chloe. They are your stereotypical mean girls. These two are cheerleaders, and let's just say that Georgia isn't the nicest to them, but they do provide some clues as to how life operates at this Chicago high school. I liked reading about all of these minor characters, but I just wish that Ms. Kottaras would have developed them a bit more.

Now... I really wanted to read this book for one specific reason. That's because this book is about an overweight teen. Georgia is a size 16 at age seventeen. I don't know if she's supposed to be self-conscious and concerned about her health or if she's content with her size because it's just kind of confusing. Now I don't know much about the author or her connection to obesity, but it just seemed like Kottaras imagined what it's like to be overweight in high school, instead of actually being emotionally attached to that condition. To be honest, it hurt to read about because I was overweight in high school. (And trust me... I know that no two overweight people will ever feel the same, but something about this was just so off.) And then there's the skinny shaming. It's one thing to be overweight and accept it, but another thing to literally poke fun at others because their bodies don't look like yours. It just felt like the whole weight issue was glossed over instead of really explored, and I was kind of offended because of the lack of explanation of everything surrounding the weight and obesity issues in this book.

What I did enjoy about this book was Georgia's voice. She's got a bit of a potty mouth on her, and I felt like that was really authentic. I can't tell you how many times I go into a high school and hear kids swearing, so to me, this part of the book was real. I also liked how it went from a narrative into a poem. The flashback poems in How to Be Brave were just really offbeat and unexpected, and I would say that they were definitely my favorite parts of the book.

Another thing that I really enjoyed about How to Be Brave is Georgia's heritage. She's Greek American, and it's been a really, really, really long time since I've read a YA book that featured a Greek American character. (I think the last one I remember that really stood out was Lena Kaligaris from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series...) I'm not Greek, but I loved the inclusion of the Greek language and references to the holiday and cultural traditions because it's something different. I also loved seeing the struggle that Georgia felt because she's only half Greek, and never really learned about her heritage as a child. I could see her frustration with her family and the fact that she doesn't fully understand her culture because her father isn't much of a talker and because she dropped out of Greek language school. I'm assuming that Kottaras wrote about what she knew in this instance, and it was just a cool thing to see a different nationality represented in YA literature.

All in all, I would say that How to Be Brave is a solid debut from E. Katherine Kottaras. It's full of a lot of issues, and I think that many different types of teens will be able to find someone to relate to in this book. As for me, tt's really hard to read about something so close to home and I truly thing that's why I struggled with some issues and plot lines in this book. However, I enjoyed reading this book, and I could see myself reading it again in the future. I really enjoyed her writing style and storytelling skills, and I would definitely pick up another book from Ms. Kottaras.

E. Katherine Kottaras is originally from Chicago, but now she writes and teaches in the Los Angeles area. She holds an M.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine and teaches writing and literature at Pasadena City College. She is at her happiest when she is either 1) at the playground with her husband and daughter and their wonderful community of friends, 2) breathing deeply in a full handstand, or 3) writing.

Her debut YA contemporary novel, HOW TO BE BRAVE, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press (November 3, 2015). Her second book is tentatively set for a 2016 release.

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