How to be Brave was one of the books I had been looking forward to the most for the fall. It was one of those books that I knew I had to read, because it sounded like it was going to be a beautiful story about love, loss, and the chance to figure out who you are and really live your life to the fullest.
Needless to say, I was definitely not disappointed with this book. I was completely engrossed in the story from the moment I opened the book, and I couldn’t put it down until I had finished it.
Georgia is entering senior year of high school, and this time she’s doing it without her mom. Her mom passed away a few months ago, and it has left Georgia completely devastated, because the two of them were really close. She hasn’t even had as much interest in art, something that her mother loved. Since Georgia only really has one friend, Liss, and she and her father don’t have much in common, she feels lost and alone. She spends time with her friend, Liss, and Liss hates seeing Georgia so sad and alone. So she encourages Georgia to follow her mother’s advice, written in a letter to Georgia before she died: she encourages Georgia to live her life, to not be so afraid, and to do everything. So Georgia makes herself a list full of things the wants to do to live her life to the fullest, including skinny dipping, trying out for the cheerleading squad, and kissing a certain boy that she’s had feelings for for a long time.
On one afternoon when Georgia and Liss skip class (on Georgia’s list), they meet up with Evelyn, a girl who has made some poor choices, and while they are hanging out with her, decide to get another item off of her list – smoking marijuana. This one time leads to several times, and Georgia and Liss end up making quite a few questionable decisions after that, including a night at a party that threatens to ruin the friendship between Georgia and Liss forever.
How to be Brave is an amazing story, written in a way that you cannot help but lose yourself while reading. It actually brought me to tears several times, including after I read the note Georgia’s mother had written her. I can’t imagine how Georgia must have really felt – dealing with a time in her life when she really needed her mother, and having her not there.
Because I have two daughters, I’m going to come right out and say that this book left quite an impact on me, and it prompted me to make some decisions in my own life that are better for myself in regards to being around for my kids for a long time.
I highly recommend this book…from the pretty cover to the wonderful message inside, it’s a book that I know will stay with me for a really, really long time.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Some nifty book links:
Some nifty publisher links:
♥ About the Author and Q+A! ♥
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. She now lives in Los Angeles where she’s hard at work on her next book.
Of Georgia’s tasks, are there any you don’t think you could complete yourself? Are you up for the challenge?
The only one I’m really afraid of is skydiving. My husband went skydiving ten years ago, but he didn’t tell me until AFTER the day was over. (And I was incredibly grateful for this choice.) But I don’t know…maybe one day…
How did the idea for HOW TO BE BRAVE first come about?
Though the story is not autobiographical, much of HOW TO BE BRAVE is “true” in the sense that it was written after a difficult period of my life. After my mother passed away when my daughter was ten months old, I found myself sandwiched between the death of my best friend and the presence of this new life. It was a dark and confusing time – I wanted to drown in my grief but also knew I had to keep myself afloat for the sake of my new baby. I started writing with this in mind – I was looking forward to the life of my own daughter, thinking about what I want for her.
That’s when I turned to writing. On my darkest days, my husband would tell me to take time for myself – to go for walks, yoga, etc. – but more often than not, I would find myself at the library, writing. The act of writing was a way for me to work through my own grief and to also find new purpose my life.
HOW TO BE BRAVE addresses issues of positive body image. Was this something you set out to address or did it spring up organically? Is body image something you struggled with?
When I was growing up in the 1980s, I didn’t have access to the amazing body of work known as “YA literature” as it exists today. I was fairly obsessed with Sweet Valley High, but Elizabeth and Jessica were suburban twins (I’m an only child) with “perfect size-six figures,” and that was totally outside the realm of my experience.
Thankfully, I did have Judy Blume, who was bravely offering characters that worried and obsessed about their growing bodies. Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? and Blubber spoke to me about my awkward body and bullying and the need for kindness.
But for the most part, I didn’t belong in the books I read. I was the only child of a Greek father and Russian-Jewish mother who were both of peasant stock (farmers on both sides) and who owned a restaurant in downtown Chicago. I didn’t know anything about suburban high schools, about size six.
This last one was especially hard for me. When I was twelve, my pediatrician told me that I needed to lose twenty to thirty pounds, thus starting a lifelong battle with my weight. My ballet teacher told my mother I was too big too dance and she was wasting her money. I was constantly picked last in gym, alongside my BFF, who also struggled with her body. When I asked her recently what she remembered of our time as kids, she said:
“I remember our PE teachers who didn’t help or guide but rather assisted with shaming by making the whole class wait for ‘free day’ until a pull-up was done (as though the situation was rooted in straight up defiance rather than inability) leading to a life-long dislike of physical activity.”
I remember those many days, feeling embarrassed and shamed by my teachers, which led to feeling more uncomfortable and awkward (as though my own self-shame wasn’t enough). By the time I was in high school, I absolutely hated my body.
I spent my twenties battling my weight. I yo-yo’d between diets and hunger and new workout trends and gyms. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, I never was able to become a perfect size six – nothing even close to that – and my body retained its fullness, its roundness, its hardy, muscular, stocky, peasant stock shape. My short arms weren’t going to suddenly become lean and long. My thick thighs always remain thick. My belly likes being round, what can I say?
I fought it for so very long. And then, after giving birth to my daughter, I stopped fighting. I had to. I learned to love my body in a new way. It was life-giving. It was strong. It was mine.
So when I sat down to write my own book, I knew the character had to be several things: she had to be Greek, she had to live in Chicago, and she had to have immigrant parents who didn’t always understand her. I also knew that she would struggle with her body. BUT. I didn’t want losing weight to be central to her experience. I knew I didn’t want it to be a goal. For the longest time, it was for me. I didn’t want to do that to her.
HOW TO BE BRAVE is about a girl who has lived her life in fear and who sets out to try new things, despite her insecurities. Before her death, her mom commanded Georgia to live differently—to try everything at least once and to never be ruled by fear.
When Georgia is first creating her list, she asks her best friend, Liss:
“What about losing weight?”
And Liss responds: “You don’t need to be brave to do that.”
Georgia agrees, but of course, her insecurities don’t just disappear. They are always there. However, at the end Georgia finally realizes, “I’m not going to kill myself trying to achieve microscopic proportions. I’m still curvy me, and I always will be.”
Of course, there are many similarities between Georgia and me. Georgia also feels uncomfortable in her body that’s deemed “overweight” by society’s standards, and part of her storyline is that she finds confidence in her body, as it is – that losing weight does not equal being brave. This has been part of my storyline has well.
What’s currently in your TBR pile?
My L.A. buddies:
For the Record, Charlotte Huang and The First Time She Drowned, Kerry Kletter
The Lies About the Truth, Courtney Stevens (my publication date buddy)
Hoodoo, Ronald L. Smith (we were classmates!)
Are there any “must-haves” at your work station? (M&Ms, coffee, etc.)
Dark chocolate at the ready. Another chair so I can put my feet up. Two Ugly dolls as elbow support. My cat, purring underneath my chin and blocking my view of the screen. She’s doing it right now. (Purr, purr, purr.)
What advice can you provide aspiring authors?
READ. A lot. Both in the genre/style you want to publish in and ABOUT writing – all aspects – the writing process, the publishing process, etc. There are hundreds of blog posts about the writing life, etc. and I read them obsessively to understand what I had to do to get published.
Also, WRITE a lot, of course. Just keep writing, no matter what, even if it’s a journal for yourself where you write a little bit everyday. And keep submitting – the rejections are difficult at first, but it gets easier.
Writing is hard and fun and frustrating and exhilirating. I can’t imagine not writing. And if you write, you understand this strange demand – it’s not a desire; it’s a necessity. Follow that call, whatever it is inside you that asks you to write – and keep writing, no matter what.