All the stories died that morning … until we found the one we’d always known.
When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued. Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Brave weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. A simply unforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love … and what it really means to be brave.
Before this summer, I had never even heard of Louise Beech. And then I saw the blog tour for The Lion Tamer Who Lost. And I decided to give it a miss. Why on earth would I do that? Well, because I categorically refuse to read books involving animals because I can’t handle anything happening to them (bad or good, I just can’t). But then I saw raving review upon raving review on my Twitter feed and, thinking this many people can’t possibly be wrong, I bought it anyway. I had to gather all my courage for another month or two, and then finally, I started reading. And I ended up devouring it, feeling all the feels, loving it to bits, crying my eyes out. Why am I rambling on about Louise’s latest book when this is supposed to be a review of her debut? Because an author able to do that, to enchant me, mesmerise me, with a book I didn’t even want to read in the first place, in a genre that is so far from my street it might as well be in another country, that, my friends, THAT is SKILL! And in that moment I vowed to read anything and everything Louise Beech had ever written and would ever write. Which brings us seamlessly to How To Be Brave!
Same story, I bought it and then gathered my courage to actually read it / listen to it. I bought the Kindle eBook with Audible narration, but since I loved Finty Williams’ performance so much, I ended up listening to the whole book. After a long day at work, getting in the car and putting on How To Be Bravewas absolute bliss.
How To Be Brave is the story of Rose and her mum Natalie. When Rose faints and is taken to hospital, she is soon diagnosed with diabetes. Rose is only 9 years old, and the diagnosis comes as a shock, to her as well as her mum. Her dad works in the military and isn’t around, so it’s Natalie who has to deal with the aftermath. Quite the stubborn personality, she finds it hard to accept any outside help, let alone ask for it. Her despair, her powerlessness are palpable; every sugar level test, every insulin shot a battle. Desperate to make the situation more bearable, Natalie promises to read with Rose the story of Rose’s great-grandfather Colin, who was lost at sea and left a diary that Rose found when she was hiding from her mum, and her diabetes.
Although both narratives are equally well-written and are both interesting, I found myself drawn to the Rose part more, because of three things that made it resonate strongly with me:
- Both narratives are based on a true story, which really enhances the reading experience. Louise does have a daughter with diabetes and her grandfather was lost at sea. Gem (@GlimpsinGembles) has written a wonderful blog post featuring pictures, which you should definitely check out!
- Natalie is my age and Rose is my niece’s age. I kept picturing her while listening to Finty, and it made everything so much more real.
- Like Rose, I’m chronically ill. I don’t have diabetes, I have MS. And I didn’t get my diagnosis when I was 9, I was 31 and I was married and I didn’t live at home anymore, but the despair, the powerlessness Natalie feels, I know is what my parents felt. And while I didn’t act out the way Rose does, I saw some of my own reactions and experiences reflected in her.
This is not a sob story, Louise doesn’t do cheap emotions and that’s what gets to me. Every. Single. Time. This again, is so totally not my cup of tea and I loved it regardless.
Highly recommended, because every once in while we all need a little reminder of how to be brave.
Check out Louise’s blog here!
After I had posted this review, Louise sent me a few pictures on Twitter. This is her grandfather (on the right) in front of Buckingham Palace with his wife and parents, receiving his medals.