"How to be Brave" Louise Beech
This book has staggering ratings on Goodreads and Amazon and the reviews are so full of praise it is impossible not to want to read this book! Bloggers frequently site this book as a novel that had a huge impact on them and I was intrigued to find out why.
The book is about Rose who is diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when she is nine. Her mother, Natalie, struggles to help Rose come to terms with this life long condition, as well as accepting it herself. Then they both start to receive visits from a hauntingly familiar figure, a man in a brown suit. They discover a book from 1943 which tells an extraordinary tale and in time, gives them the strength to come to terms with the challenges life has thrown at them and what it means to be brave.
My brother was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he was 10 years old so this story had quite an effect on me as being 15, I remember very clearly the impact his new medical condition had on the whole family, both emotionally and also practically. To begin with there was a lot of fear, worry, panic and upset. Then it affected our food shopping, our diets, our routine. At times it has given us some scary moments and a few panicked trips to the doctors, the chemists and A&E. Diabetes is a condition that doesn't stop someone having a 'normal' life- advances in medicine are constantly improving the way a diabetic can manage their insulin and diet - but initially, particularly with children, it is a difficult thing to accept and all the emotions Beech explores in her novel, from sadness, fear, anxiety and frustration to hope and bravery, were things that I have seen my brother (and the rest of us) go through.
But this novel is about more than a child becoming ill. Although there is a lot about Natalie and her guilt as a parent, the strain on her marriage and the fact she is having to handle such a frightening diagnosis on her own is explored in detail with sensitivity and empathy. Any parent will relate to her helplessness and heartache. Any parent will recognise Rose's frustration, lack of understanding and fear about what is happening to her. The repetition of constantly testing blood sugar and injecting insulin create a real sense of urgency which Beech uses to build an oppressive and intense atmosphere. The relentlessness of the treatment is well conveyed.
"My life was a series of circles, spinning faster and faster. Prick, pain, blood. Harvest the crimson flow onto the strip. Read the black numerical digits...."
As Natalie says, repetition can often be a comfort but here it is something that she will never enjoy nor ever feel any sense of comfort from.
I also liked it when Natalie says Rose is not just any child, and the persons she's telling acknowledges that of course not, "She is your child." I thought that captured how every parent feels about their child. There are times when suddenly no other child matters. Whatever might do for another child, will not do for yours. You do not want your child to be a statistic, a name on the appointment book, an example. You want them acknowledged as precious, important, treasured. This is the power and strength and enormity of a mother's love for their child.
Beech interjects these passages about Natalie and Rose coming to terms with the diabetes with a haunting figure of man in a brown suit. His presence does not upset the girls, or disturb them. He seems familiar in some way. Beech also starts to refer to finding a book, searching for a book, needing a book which builds a sense of suspense and mystery as well as a hint of the supernatural.
I liked the description of the leather bound book Natalie discovers.
"I just had to untie the ribbons and free the words."
"the handwriting was in neat sentences of someone over the worst, someone looking back."
There were some lovely descriptions of the weight of books and stories and the power of stories to heal. It was really interesting to see the effect the story of Grandad Colin stranded in the Atlantic Ocean in 1943 had on both Natalie and Rose.
The novel is nearly 370 pages long and this gives Beech plenty of time to allow the reader to become completely immersed in both story lines. It's very clever how she interweaves together two quite different settings and situations in two different eras and in two very different worlds. She really allows her readers to explore and consider the relationships and dynamics between the characters and the challenges they face. It is a thoughtful book yet it moves at a good pace, ensuring the reader is always engaged and wanting to read on.
Beech writes very well. There were lots of passages that had particularly good descriptions, images and that were almost lyrical. It is easy to feel as if you are with the characters, wherever they are and whatever they are involved in whether this is something you have any experience of or not. There are also lots of passages that are full of emotion and heartache. The reader identifies with Colin, Natalie and Rose and is prepared to invest in their story until the last sentence.
This is also a tale of hope and of bravery. There is a message of positivity, of being saved and of learning to be brave. It is not a depressing read. There are many quotes that would inspire and reflect a sense of optimism and hope. There is enough about the magical power of story telling to keep any bibliomaniac satisfied.
If you enjoyed Love Anthony, any Jodi Picoult or Diane Chamberlain, you will enjoy this novel. It really does seem as though the acclaim is well deserved and it is a book that you will enjoy, learn from, be inspired by and want to read again. A great combination of family drama and history, the anxiety of the present and the message of the past.
For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)