Sometimes you need to take a break from your normal reading habits and try something different. I took a break from fantasy to read a realistic fiction book and I’m really glad I did because this book was impactful and touching.
Also, a big thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinions!
Teenager Cason Martin is the youngest ballerina in the Atlanta Ballet Conservatory. She never really had a choice of whether she learned to dance or not. Her mother, the conservatory’s artistic director, has made all the decisions in Cason’s life. But that’s about to change. Cason has been hiding an injury, and it’s much worse than anyone imagines.
Davis Channing understands all too well what it’s like to give up control of your life. He’s survived cancer, but his drug addiction nearly killed him. Now he’s been sober for seven months and enjoying his community service at the hospital. But just when he thinks he’s got it together, Davis’s ex-girlfriend, who is still battling her addiction, barrels back into his life.
Cason and Davis are not friends. But, as their worlds collide, they will start to depend on one another. Can they both be brave enough to beat the odds?
Brave Enough is a book about addiction, love, self-discovery, friendship, and cancer. It is a book about topics people usually try to avoid talking about, and books like that are often the ones that need to be shared the most. People, especially children and teens, need to see themselves represented and heard. Like the author said, “When I was a teenager and reading every book I could get my hands on, I was desperate for a girl that looked like me. For a girl who had cancer and lived. And it was really hard to come by. So, I wrote one.”
Granted, there are more books about cancer now than there used to be (I’m looking at you, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, A Monster Calls, and The Fault in Our Stars), but that doesn’t mean there are enough. Especially enough written by an actual cancer survivor who can actually serve as an example for teens experiencing something similar.
But beyond the representation and the author, the content in the book is really important. I’d say this book is almost 80% character-driven. That isn’t to say that things don’t happen in the book, but the author focuses more on the character’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings than any eternal forces. And when there is something that happens outside of the characters, it all comes back to how the characters cope with and process what happened.
Davis is a cancer survivor and recovering drug addict, and he’s only a junior in high school. Beyond feeling the constant guilt over almost ruining his cancer-less body and the constant pull of his addiction, Davis struggles over his relationship with his parents and Cason, the future and college, and generally learning to accept responsibility for your actions and learn from your mistakes. Clean and sober for almost a year, Davis still feels the pull of drugs and the easy escape of getting high and depends of the support network made up of NA meetings, his sponsor, his parents, and his friends.
I love that the author didn’t make Davis perfect; she made it clear that he struggles with his addiction on a daily basis. But he also actively works toward staying sober and maturely dealing with his mistakes to achieve a better future. Not only is he a good character, but he is an important figure for teenagers to read about and learn from.
Despite only being in high school, Cason is a professional ballerina who was about to truly begin her career until she learned she had bone cancer. Now, she is faced with the possibility that she may never be able to fill her pointe shoes the way she once did. For someone who has been dancing her whole life and whose mother is a professional dancer, this causes a major identity crisis. Cason’s diagnosis causes a lot of internal strife as she comes to terms with her new life as well as outside conflict with her mom. Natalie, Cason’t mother, is convinced that the cancer is just a short inconvenience and Cason will be back to dancing in a few months.
Cason’s character development was really touching and great to read. Combine the development of her relationships with her mother and Davis to her internal development and you have a really compelling character arc.
As much as I loved the characters, I wasn’t a huge fan of the author’s writing style, primarily toward the beginning of the book. There doesn’t seem to be much flow to the storyline or the events in the book. It was really difficult to know how much time had passed between each chapter, and some of the events didn’t seem to connect very naturally.
For instance, Cason and Davis’s friendship seemed to come out of nowhere. One minute Davis is internally groaning at the thought of seeing Cason and the next minute they are hanging out and laughing like old friends. I honestly felt like I had somehow skipped a few chapters or misread some of the book because the events truly didn’t seem to fit together.
This either got better toward the end of the book or I just learned to go along with it, but I will say that the last half was written much better than the first half. This could also be because the initial life-changing event had already taken place and the relationships had been established (we all know that getting started is the hardest part).
Regardless, I found that the content of the book and the characters helped compensate for the iffy writing during the first few chapters. If excellent writing style is extremely important to you, this might be a challenging read.
All in all, Katie Gardner’s Brave Enough is a book that addresses important topics for all teenagers, including cancer, addiction, and self-esteem. It has many characters with compelling lives and is overall an emotional read. This will definitely be making a home on our bookshelves, what about yours?
*FYI, if you decide to read this book (which you should), I would highly recommend reading the author’s note at the end. You’ll learn a lot and will be even more emotional after it!