‘How to be brave’ by E. Katherine Kottaras
High School student Georgia is determined to go through a self-made bucket list to live life after her mothers dead. The blurb sounded really interesting, but ‘How to be brave’ and espcially Georgia’s bucket list disappointed me big time. Amanda from our editorial board asked me this very good question: “What items would you have liked instead on Georgia’s bucket list, in order to understand her better?”
‘How to be brave’
November 3rd 2015
St. Martin’s Press
Georgia is a lonely child living with her kind but not very supporting dad, she’s insecure in high school, and her mom has died recently. The cocktail is devastating when you’re in your teens.
But instead of being engulfed by depression, Georgia and her best friend Liss actually come up with this unique and funny idea of making a bucket list of how to be brave, because it was Georgia’s mother’s last words; that Georgia should be brave and live life.
Why show a size M girl, when Georgia’s a XXL?
The synopsis of ‘how to be brave’ sounded great, but unfortunately I had a lot of issues with this novel. Let’s start with the cover. It’s really, really beautiful, kept in almost the Greek blue and white, because Georgia’s dad is from Greece. The cover has already been flashed on Instagram/bookstagram by the author herself.
But something’s not right. In the story Georgia struggles with overweight. It’s known that her mom was big – and proud of it, and Georgia tells us about her size 16 skinny jeans (so she’s an XXL-girl, right). It’s stressed out several times that big girls are okay, and Liss actually ridicules the tiny cheerleaders, because they’re small. Yet, the cover model is a size 8 (size 10 at the most), a Medium girl with thin arms and thighs. Why!?
It actually made me really upset. For starters, if this story’s going to be credible, of course the cover has to be true to Georgia as she looks. So why can’t our size 16 protagonist be shown like a wonderful size 16 girl on the cover?
How to be brave’
I don’t want to go tomorrow.
I need to talk to her.
Instead, I’ve done what she always did for me the night before the first day of the school year. I’ve picked out three complete outfits, hung them on my closet door.
It’s a good start, I guess.
Outfit #1: Dark indigo skinny jeans (are they still considered skinny if they’re size 16), drapey black shirt, long gold chain necklace that Liss gave me, and cheap ballet flats that hurt my feet because they’re way too flat and I hate wearing shoes with no socks.
Pretty random behavior
The pace of the story is dead slow. We get a lot of details about Georgia’s past, though, but most of it doesn’t contribute to anything and isn’t of importance for the plot. The dialogues float. They are well written, and Liss, Georgia’s crush Daniel, and the wild girl Evelyn, are really likeable. They have great personalities, they take initiative, and they are the only reasons why the story moves on, because – sadly – Georgia doesn’t do much, and if you analyze each and every situation, you’ll discover that the few things she actually does are pretty random.
The exciting bucket list?
Georgia’s bucket list is totally random: 3. Jump out a plane, 7. Try out for cheerleading, 10 Tribal dancing, 14. Kiss him, 15. See what happens from here (just to mention a few). And a random bucket list might have been fun reading about — instead of the traditional one big dream, like becoming a ballet dancer or an astronaut — if it also were written in a funny way, but unfortunately funny scenes or dialogues isn’t Katherine Kottaras strong point.
So, without humor Georgia’s attempts to live life ends up vague, because she doesn’t seem committed. Maybe because everything on the bucket list is written down within minutes, and the really exciting things like 3. Jump out of a plane, are ditched almost right away. The rest feels like something she just has to do, but not really wanting it, and when our protagonist isn’t committed to the milestones for her goal, how can you be as a reader?
How to be brave’
“You can cross something off your list now.” Liss takes a sip of the Frappuccino and then hands it to me. “Like for real.”
“But we’re going to do this again, right?” I open the lid and lick off some whipped cream. “I mean, if we don’t get caught.”
“we’re not going to get caught. And yes, we’ll do this again.”
“Okay, cool.” I hand the Frappuccino back to Liss, take out the list, and cross out
11. Cut class“. But why do I feel like I havn’t actually accomplished something. All we did was walk down the street.
Shops and the sights in Chicago
On the other hand I learned a lot about the shops and the sights in Chicago and about every thought in Georgia’s short-term memory. Also she shared a lot of her memories about things her mother had said and done, but all the time I felt it didn’t lead to anything important. It didn’t build anything up, because the memories also seemed absolutely — random.
I agree, it is very realistic having random memories of a person you’ve just lost and misses terrible, but in a novel it only works, if we get to know stuff about Georgia’s mother, that’s going to be used later on.
It gets a bit better in the end, but I thought it was far too late, and of course I won’t spoil it.
Similar traits with ‘The fault in our stars’
Not that every novel with serious illness should be compared to John Green’s ‘The Fault in our stars’, but right in this case I think it’s the perfect comparison.
Because from the first page John Green gets deep into our emotions with Hazel Grace’s experiences in the church. Both Hazel and Georgia are girls in shitty situations. Hazel is ill with cancer. Georgia’s mother died from diabetes. In both stories the girls don’t know what direction they should take in life, so instead of following really big dreams, they are forced to live in the present. That’s why we watch them in their everyday lives.
So, two stories and a lot of similar traits. Then why does Hazel’s story grab me by my heart, and why do I just get annoyed of reading Georgia’s random attempts to find an interesting way in life?
I think it’s because Georgia doesn’t learn anything important about herself or about life, and she doesn’t build up important friendships or relationships as the story goes by. When something radical happens, it’s not triggered by Georgia’s will but mostly by random events. Georgia is just bounced up and down and around, and nothing happens until Liss, Daniel or Evelyn can’t stand the stagnation and do something.
The further I got into the story, Georgia’s inaction annoyed me so much, that I wished I could have read about Liss’, Daniel’s or Evelyn’s lives instead. Georgia doing ‘random stuff’ or doing ‘nothing at all’ isn’t about ‘how to be brave’ in my opinion. I had really hoped for so much more, and that makes me return to Amanda’s question in the beginning: “What items would you have liked instead on Georgia’s bucket list, in order to understand her better?”
“What items would you have liked instead …”
I think Georgia should have achieved personal goals on that bucket list instead e.g.:
- ‘Make a new chearleading team with the schools size 16-girls’ (instead of just accepting being ditched)
- ‘Find something/someone that makes me laugh’
- ‘Do something important and big for Liss, who’s always there for me’
- ‘Get to know and help out Evelyn’ (Even though I don’t like potheads)
- ‘Help Daniel in some way, so he isn’t so alone with his dying dad’
Then the chase of the milestones could have been a thousand times more personal and much more exciting, beacuse Georgia could achieve them in a million different ways.
If Georgia really didn’t have the strength to do something for her friends, I think she would have been better off attending Hazel’s church group, so she – at least – could have embraced her sadness in the open with other teens, hopefully making new bonds, instead of just hoping to get healed by chasing activities.
Of course I’m not the author, so I shouldn’t write the story either, but when a protagonist with so many great friends leaves so many opportunities unused, it’s really hard not to go completely … 😉
(Thanks NetGalley for the e-ARC of this novel)