“You have to know how to be sad to know how to be happy and if you know both of those things you’ll know how to be brave.”
Oh boy, this book hit me hard! It’s been almost two weeks since I finished How To Be Brave, and I’m still struggling to get something somewhat coherent on paper… Such is the power of anything Louise Beech writes! My first two experiences with her work, Call Me Star Girl and The Lion Tamer Who Lost, already made me an ardent fan of her writing, and How To Be Brave has only reconfirmed my love. What an absolutely stunning read! Before I try to start my rambles about How To Be Brave, I just have to say that Louise Beech is one of the select few authors that can pull off a variety of different topics and genres and maintain that same high quality in each and every single story. For that same reason, Louise Beech now shares a spot right at the top of favorite auto-buy authors I would read no matter what without even checking the blurb or genre first!
Let’s try and discuss How To Be Brave now. There are so many elements I loved in this story, and I’m honestly having a hard time figuring out where to start. I was tempted to leave it at “just read the damn book” and call it a day, which would pretty much be a summary of my thoughts in the first place, but it doesn’t do this stunning and heartbreaking read justice at all… So let’s start at the beginning, and let’s talk about the plot. How To Be Brave is roughly split in two with a dual timeline. On one hand, we have the contemporary family drama storyline where Natalie and her nine-year-old daughter Rose struggle to come to terms with a diabetes 1 diagnosis that changed both their lives forever. To contrast this, we have a historical fiction survivor story set in 1943, where we read about the survivors of a shipwreck during WWII. Both fascinating stories on their own, and combined they truly turn this story into something else. With a technique that had that timeslip vibe, both storylines are combined through the diary of Natalie’s grandfather Colin who was one of the men that survived the shipwreck. Past and present are blurred as not only Colin seems to guide both Natalie and Rose through the changes diabetes 1 introduces into their lives, but Rose also seems to appear in the past… This technique is definitely one of the elements that makes How To Be Brave both unique and a worthy new all time favorite to add to my list.
Let’s talk about the contemporary storyline first. The focus is on Natalie and her nine-year-old daughter Rose, who has just been diagnosed with diabetes 1. I loved how this story was able to teach us more about what it is like to adapt your life after such a diagnosis, and show us how heartbreaking, difficult and seemingly hopeless the struggle can be when it involves a child. How To Be Brave helps shine a light on diabetes 1 and I applaude the author for incorporating a theme so close to home into one of her books. Especially as there is still so much misinformation and ignorance about diabetes 1… The struggle of both Natalie and Rose is portrayed realistically and beautifully, and will most likely break your heart before you reach that final page.
The historical part of this story is set in 1943, with Natalie’s grandfather Colin as the narrator. After a shipwreck, Colin and part of the crew manage to survive and find themselves on a lifeboat waiting to be rescued. We learn about what happens in the days after through Colin’s diary, the same diary Natalie uses to distract Rose during her injections as they start reading the pages. I loved that the lifeboat story of Colin is actually based on what happened to the author’s own grandfather in 1943 and it definitely makes this story feel so much more authentic because of it. Part memoir, part biography, part fiction and without doubt a very powerful combination that takes the story to the next level!
The writing is once again sublime, and the same can be said for the character development of the main characters. Both Natalie, Rose and Colin are thoroughly and realistically developed, making my heart feel for them as I was fully absorbed in their lives. Realistic stories and characters have their ups and downs, and this was masterfully achieved in How To Be Brave. Oh yes, this story is an emotional, raw and heartbreaking story with an ultimate message of hope and learning how to be brave. It’s yet another story that completely blew me away and left me lost for words after that final page… How To Be Brave is simply a fascinating mix of historical fiction and a contemporary family drama, combined through a diary and that timeslip vibe. I’m also already 100% positive it will appear on my list of 2020 favorite books!