Published 17 September 2015 by Orenda
Stunning debut novel – a mother connects with her seriously ill child through the medium of storytelling, and a haunting tale from the past
This is a novel about how stories bring magic to our lives. Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat where an ancestor survived for fifty days. Natalie struggles when nine-year-old daughter Rose is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and refuses her life-saving injections and blood tests. When they begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar they realise he has something for them – his diary. Only by using her imagination, newspaper clippings, letters and this diary will Natalie share the true story of Grandad Colin’s survival at sea, and help her daughter cope with her illness and, indeed, survive. This is a haunting, beautifully written, tenderly told story that wonderfully weaves together a contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life through the medium storytelling with an extraordinary story of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War.
This is my second Orenda book review for December.
How To Be Brave has been highly recommended by book bloggers, such as Liz of Liz Loves Books review.
How To Be Brave is not the typical book I go for. I try to avoid anything that sounds sentimental. Yet instead of being sentimental, I found myself incredibly moved by the whole story. It left me with feelings of hope. I was fascinated by the story of Colin and his adventures at sea.
The story goes back and forth, as we see present day Natalie and Rose and in the past twenty one year old, Colin. Natalie is a fairly ordinary mum, with a nine year old child. The father is in the background, away in the army. Rose faints and is diagnosed with diabetes. This is a manageable condition, given insulin and a bit of patience. To Rose and Natalie, it is the end of the world. Rose reverts to annoying brattish behaviour after the diagnosis. This is made worse by a mother who mollycoddles her and reinforces her helplessness. Rose and her mother are bookworms, which I heartily approve of and redeemed them in my eyes. Rose and Natalie are drawn to the diary of Colin, Natalie’s Grandad. They use his story as coping mechanism, as a way to deal with the reality of the diabetes diagnosis. Slowly they learn through his story about his epic adventure in 1943. Colin becomes very real to the two of them. He was a survivor and his story resonates in the present day. He brings hope.
I think the story will speak to many readers, in different ways. I was in tears, as I read the concluding parts and felt emotional. The strongest part was Colin’s story and the historical telling of survival in dark times. The human spirit is strong. I am not sure I could manage being stuck on a boat, surrounded by death and keep going. It was moving and incredibly exciting. I was willing him to survive, along with Rose and Natalie. If there is a message to receive from this book, it is that there is hope in life. We may not be learning to manage diabetes like Rose or waiting to be rescued like Colin. We too can survive tough times like them.
I thought it was ingenious the way the author melted the past and the present together. I could completely believe in it. I was delighted to see that Colin’s story was based on fact.
This was a strange story for me, moving and emotional. It is about learning to be brave, with whatever life throws at you. A story of hope.