Hi everyone! I’m so happy to be able to share (what I hope to be) a great post for How To Be Brave. The best part? Today’s the publication date! YAY! So, I am the first stop in the St. Martin’s tour for How To Be Brave. I’ll be sharing my review, an interview and finally a giveaway. So I’ll get started now. 🙂
By: E. Katherine Kottaras
St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: November 3, 2015
Amazon / Book Depository / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound / Google Play / iBooks / Kobo / Indigo
ABOUT THE BOOK
An emotional contemporary YA novel about love, loss, and having the courage to chase the life you truly want.
Reeling from her mother’s death, Georgia has a choice: become lost in her own pain, or enjoy life right now, while she still can. She decides to start really living for the first time and makes a list of fifteen ways to be brave – all the things she’s wanted to do but never had the courage to try. As she begins doing the things she’s always been afraid to do – including pursuing her secret crush, she discovers that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But once in a while, the right person shows up just when you need them most – and you learn that you’re stronger and braver than you ever imagined.
First Line: This is what it was like: I didn’t want you to come.
Favorite Quote: Life will turn us upside down, and it will still be okay.
How To Be Brave will be a quiet YA book, I believe. It doesn’t scream at you to read it, so you may pass it by at first glance. I don’t think it will immediately stick out in stores cover wise either. Is that a bad thing? Of course not. I think How To Be Brave may stick out most to those who do decide to randomly give it a chance [or read my interview! ;)].
I found the main character, Georgia to have a unique voice. I didn’t immediately find Georgia to be a very likable character, she was angry a bit, but then I loved that because it made her more real. Georgia is a character who is between a size 14 to a size 16, it’s mentioned throughout the book that Georgia is overweight. I felt like this aspect of How To Be Brave wasn’t exactly realistic enough because in none of the descriptions of her, did I really feel like she was anything more than a bit chubby based on that. I did like that Georgia was a larger character though either way and that it wasn’t the focus.
What I loved about her was being able to sense all of her emotions and she shows them all. She was happy, sad, angry, depressed and scared. I liked how well they were all shown. Sprinkled throughout How To Be Brave are passages of poetry that tell part of Georgia’s mother illness, death and Georgia’s own personal life. As a former (sometimes) user of poetry, these were some of my favorite parts of How To Be Brave because how much they told. They were written very raw-like. It was a different way to “tell” Georgia’s backstory then just randomly inserting it into the story. I felt it was more authentic that way.
In the beginning, it’s been months since Georgia’s mother has passed and after reading a letter her mother wrote, she decides to write a bucket list of sorts. On this bucket list are ways that she will “be brave”. She makes this list with her best friend, Liss. I liked their friendship quite a bit, they were mostly supportive of each other.
On Georgia’s bucket list were things like skinny dipping, skipping a class, smoking pot, and learning to draw. I thought the list was interesting and was surprised by other items like trapeze school and tribal dancing. It was an interesting mix of “brave” things.
For me though, the book picked up when it went beyond the bucket list items, it happened when Georgia realized she couldn’t really just stick to her list and make it through. I loved hearing about her family given that they’re Greek and how that affected how her father saw her (as his good, little girl) at 18.
A couple of things that I really liked was Georgia’s love interest, Daniel and the school bit. Like Georgia, he’s going through a similar experience with one of his parents. I loved seeing them connect and relate to each other in that way. As for the school bit, I think it’s rare to see students actually IN classes and working on assignments out of the school setting. This wasn’t the case for How To Be Brave. Due to Georgia wanting to learn to draw, she takes an art class which helps with that a lot and is brought up frequently.
Georgia has quite a few outlets in How To Be Brave, she has her list, her art, tribal dancing and smoking pot. Knowing how important an outlet is to someone with stress and hard times, I loved that Georgia had things to help her through. With that said, there were a few things in How To Be Brave that I didn’t like such as the smoking pot, drinking, skipping class, somewhat stereotypical characters and the weight portrayal.
I like how I saw Georgia think a lot about her mother given the circumstances. I thought it did well at showing grief and how hard it was for Georgia to deal with her mom being gone.
Something I thought was really unique was how Georgia questioned her mother’s actions because she didn’t take better care of herself and that was why she died. Georgia’s mother was overweight and had diabetes and heart issues because of that. Georgia made me think about how people with health issues of any kind should try to diminish them, especially if they have children because it can affect how their kids will see them. Or how long they’ll be around with their children.
I really liked How To Be Brave. I loved the family and art aspect. I found some characters a little stereotypical at time. There was a great job done with the grief aspect of Georgia’s life. I loved how this went from being a light book to a darker book because of subplots. I would recommend this book.
And now an interview with Katherine:
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 was your path to publication? How long did it take you to write the book? Was this the first book you wrote or just the first one that got published?
I’ve been writing since I was four years old (strange little odes to Crystal Gayle’s, my favorite country singer of the ‘80s – oh how I wanted her hair). I wrote throughout high school via environmentally-themed zines that my friends and I Xeroxed and handed out to the entire school, as well as secret poetry written in journals stashed under my bed. Of course, there were all those papers for college and grad school. (I’m a freak because I love writing essays for school.)
However, I didn’t pursue creative writing seriously until I was 25 when I signed up for classes at UCLA. About seven years later after taking classes in short story, nonfiction, and YA, I finally decided to start submitting my work places – poetry, short stories, essays, etc. Around the same time, I decided to write a book. It’s YA paranormal, took me four years to write, and was rejected by absolutely every single agent I queried. Not even one request.
So, after a bit of soul-searching and some acceptance that perhaps this book wasn’t “the one,” I started over. I took some more classes through Litreactor where I started the book has eventually become HOW TO BE BRAVE. I’ve been extreeeeeemely lucky as the process has been fairly quick from initial draft to publication. Between beginning the book and publication, it will be a grand total of two years and nine months, which is actually quite amazing!
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.
How do you address body image issues with your daughter? Was that part of the drive to write this book?
Absolutely. We talk a lot about how the media often “sells” a certain body type. .” I’ve shown her Photoshopping videos like this one.
and we discuss, quite openly, how it’s unrealistic to try to change your body to meet the standards presented in magazines and on screens. I try to guide our conversation as a discussion, asking her questions about why she thinks the media represents women and girls in certain ways. We talk about how every body is beautiful, and that she is beautiful, just as she is.
Your protagonist, Georgia, lost her mother and is honoring her by completing her bucket list. How much of this premise was taken from your own experiences?
HOW TO BE BRAVE specifically started as a thought experiment to see what my relationship with my dad would have been like had my mom died first. As I started writing, Georgia became her own character with her own struggles.
Thanks to St. Martin’s, I am going to be giving away a copy of How To Be Brave to one person in the U.S OR Canada from my Rafflecopter giveaway. It ends in 20 days. 🙂
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.