HOW TO BE BRAVE by E. Katherine Kottaras
When Georgia’s mother dies, her life is in shambles. Her mother was her rock, her best friend, and her guiding light. Now, all Georgia has left to remember her mother is a last letter, in which she tells her daughter to be brave – to try everything her mother didn’t get an opportunity to do.
So that’s what Georgia does. She makes a list of all the things she hasn’t done — skinny dipping, first kiss, smoking pot, etc. — and then sets out to accomplish them. She’s joined on her mission by her best friend Liss, and the new girl at school Evelyn, who is struggling through her own battles as well. The book chronicles Georgia’s successes and failures as she attempts to make good on her last promise to her mother and become a better and braver person.
Georgia is an easy-to-like character: she’s sarcastic and self-confident, but you can really feel her aching grief too. One thing I love is that Georgia is overweight, but her weight does not define her as a person or character. Too often overweight characters in books are defined only by their size and its accompanying problems. Georgia concerned with much more than her weight. The other characters were less interesting. Liss is the uber-confident best friend who always stands up for Georgia, Evelyn is the troubled sidekick, and Daniel is the too-perfect, 100% understanding, swoon-worthy crush. All the characters besides Georgia felt very one-dimensional, and I didn’t care much about any of their lives or actions.
There are few deeper subplots that balance out the lightheartedness of Georgia’s list. Georgia and her dad struggle to see eye-to-eye on just about anything, especially without her mother to bridge the divide between them. There’s interesting moments about the immigrant experience and the struggles of assimilation for Georgia’s Greek father, but these don’t get flushed out fully. Additionally, each chapter ends with a poetic passage in which Georgia describes what it was like to watch her mother whither away and die — these are the most gut-wrenching moments of the book for me; it was clear the author, E. Katherine Kottaras, has experienced the pain of losing someone close to her.
The plot itself was pretty weak. Most of the stuff on her bucket list was easy to accomplish, and the long passages about learning to draw and taking a tribal dance class were unnecessarily drawn out. I definitely found myself skimming pages because there wasn’t a lot of action happening. The pacing was off too.The book stretches a whole academic year, but I think if you trimmed some of the extraneous descriptions, is could have fit much better over the course of a semester. I didn’t mind the drug and alcohol usage, but I think some people might, so I would be hesitant to recommend this to younger YA readers.
Overall, not a bad book, and I think it will really resonate with a lot of girls. But the uneven pacing, the weird plot and the one-dimensional characters made this one a miss for me.
ARC provided through Netgalley.