Natalie’s world is turned upside down when her 9 year old daughter, Rose, collapses and is later diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Her husband is in the forces and stationed in Afghanistan leaving Natalie and Rose to come to terms with this life changing event on their own. This is chick-lit right? Well actually no. It’s a piece of magic that will sustain anyone with a beating heart in their breast and even the slightest sense of wonder and mystery.
The mechanics of the story are that as Rose and Natalie try to come to terms with the impact of diabetes on their everyday lives and their relationship they are visited by Colin, Natalie’s grandad who during World War 2 was stranded on a lifeboat with a group of other seamen after their ship was sunk by a German submarine. The two strands run together as mother and daughter uncover their relative’s diary and retell his story in order to cope with their own struggle.
It isn’t the basic ingredients that matter so much though as the result. This is a yellow brick road of a novel that when it delivers you home will have you seeing all the people you care about anew, in glorious Technicolour. The stories are authentically told, in fact they are rooted in the author’s family history, and the characters are so real that they speak to anyone who knows what it is to be alone and what it means to be connected to others.
In the book Shoeless Joe by W P Kinsella there is a moment when Ray Kinsella’s prize baseball field is under threat and the character J D Salinger (yes that one) stands up to say that the field will be saved by its magic because “The people who come here will be drawn… They’ll walk out to the bleacher and sit in shirtsleeves in the perfect evening… They’ll watch the game and it will be as if they knelt in front of a faith healer, or dipped themselves in magic waters where a saint once rose like a serpent and cast benedictions to the wind like peach petals.”
How to Be Brave shares the same magic that Ray Kinsella’s “Field of Dreams” possessed. It makes you want to snuggle up with your own children in a book nook and hold them close. It makes you want to return to your own childhood and hear stories from your parents and grandparents of times when they were young, before you knew them. Colin’s story is exceptional and Natalie and Rose’s story is moving, but they are windows to our own stories too.
I will be honest and say that I was approached to review the book because of the lack of male perspectives in the arranged blog tour and it is not something that I would have naturally picked up from the bookshop, but I am delighted that it found its way to me. The writing is enticing and accessible and the stories poignant and affecting. It is a novel about the power of story and also a novel that proves that power.