How To Be Brave by Louise Beech #Type1

how-to-be-braveHow to Be Brave isn’t just a book you read, it’s a story that you feel like you are living while reading, right down to sharing the symptoms and emotions of some of its characters. I didn’t just read this book, I experienced it, developed symptoms and was grateful for medicine and the time to rest and recuperate from it. But fear not, it’s totally worth the ride.

Natalie is the mother of 9-year-old Rose, whose father Jake is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan when Rose has a crisis which we learn is caused by a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. While they are in hospital both mother and daughter are visited and spoken to by a man who reassures them and whose voice leads them soon after to the discovery of dusty diary in a long abandoned box belonging to Natalie’s grandfather Colin.

As the two struggle to adapt to their new life routines that diabetes has forced upon them, they begin to share the story they have uncovered, of the destruction of the ship Colin had been working on and his long survival at sea before rescue.

The narrative of mother-daughter daily life and the passing of days at sea by Colin are interwoven so closely that we live the two simultaneously, there is a strong connectivity between what passes through the mind of young Rose and that of her great-grandfather.

They develop a routine that each time they must do the finger prick test and the insulin injection, they will narrate a portion of Rose’s great grandfather’s story; they don’t read from the diary however, rather, they take what they know and imagine the days, entering the minds and bodies of the men who shared the enormous challenge of trying to survive in a lifeboat floating with the currents at sea, and keeping their spirits up.

We meet Ken and Fowler and Scown and others and Scarface, the menacing shark that never gives up its pursuit, whose instinct is sharp and head-butting intentions lethal.

how-to-be-brave2Louise Beech has created a page-turning, moving story that on Day 2 of reading, which was also Day 2 post-op for my daughter who also has Type 1 diabetes (diagnosed at 9 year-old), but who is recovering currently from spinal surgery to correct a scoliosis related curvature, I began to develop symptoms of headache, dehydration and my body ached all over. I wasn’t sure if it was sympathetic pain for my daughter or for Colin, I couldn’t read, just as Colin and the men couldn’t always find the energy to keep a lookout and gave into sleep, and so did I, after a quick trip to the pharmacy for medicine and water, so dehydrated! Miraculously, the next day I was completely fine.

In between the created narrative which mother and daughter eventually share, coinciding with Rose taking more responsibility for doing her tests, preparing her insulin and even doing her own injections, they also open the diary randomly, using it as a kind of oracle and as one would expect, discovering just the reflection they needed to hear at that moment, as they travel their own journey.

Just as I do now with this book, while I live one day at a time with my daughter’s pain, and today as the morphine is removed and she has taken the paracetamol and all the medicine she is allowed, and the pain is still there and there is nothing more to give but a mother’s love, yes, I too open the book for reassurance and get this:

No one spoke. Even the sea seemed to listen, calm for a moment, its many colours merging into sparkling gold. Colin cut off thoughts beyond two days ahead. He was unable to imagine his hunger on so small an amount of food and so little water. Looking around at the craggy faces of his mates, he could see in their eyes the same fear. But it had to be. Much as the craving was there,they couldn’t eat more heartily for fear of how long rescue might be in coming.

Louise’s book has been my little escape these past four days, and these notes more like a journal than a review. I had intended to take a literary ocean escape with me during this time and meant to begin with Sheila Hurst’s Ocean Echoes which I will begin today, as she shares a similar love of the sea and ocean to me and likes the same kind of nature writing, however Louise’s book reached out to me and I decided to begin there, not realising how much of it takes place at sea. I couldn’t help noticing the synchronicity of this giant picture of a roiling sea, tossing a ship in its swell, right opposite us, the first thing I see every time I leave the room:


When Rose suggests she is ready to take more responsibility for her diabetes preparation and injections, her mother is initially reluctant, seeing her still as small child, wanting to avoid her immersion into the serious world of managing the medical challenge. In the same way she resists Rose’s desire to take up some of the storytelling, until Rose shares the words she’d whispered into Colin’s ear, during her night-time dream:

Rose patted my head, gentler now.
‘I said, If you don’t live, I’ll disappear Grandad. Can I call you Grandad? You’re really my Great Grandad, but I like Grandad better. If you don’t live Grandad, I won’t be able to come back and stroke your hair. I’ll just dissolve like a salty ghost. So then I got a bit of the canvas logbook and drew us all in there; you and me and Dad. I wrote above it that I was learning how to be brave, and he was making it a lot easier.

I loved everything about this book, brilliantly conceived and written, I would almost say channelled, as we are totally cast into Colin’s experience and made to feel it, and that doesn’t come from mere words scratched on a page. And I loved how mother and daughter become twin storytellers of the story, using their imagination, feeding into and drawing from their night dreams and day dreams and the bittersweet ending. Oh the magic of fiction and of life.

Highly Recommended.

Click Here To Buy A Copy of How To Be Brave

More Louise Beech I’ve Reviewed:

The Mountain in My Shoe

Maria in the Moon

46 thoughts on “How To Be Brave by Louise Beech #Type1

  1. I have goose bumps as I read this — of all the books you could have chosen, but this time the Universe chose for you. Wishing your daughter (and you) a better day tomorrow, and every day after that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We have to always remember to never ignore the instinct Fransi, isn’t that true, look what gifts are right at our fingertips. The silent advice that just leads us where we need to go, to the words we need to hear, the images we need to see, the courage we have to develop. Tough day yesterday but a calm night. Waiting for the day to unfold, just like Colin, it’s long way till Day 50 for us.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Col, I thought you might enjoy this inspired adventure at sea and the wisdom of Colin passed on to his great granddaughter and the sage words of little Rose whispered in his ear too. It’s one of those special books that don’t come along very often, the kind you are so good at pointing out to us. Thanks, it’s just one day at sea (at a time) here, that we can cope with, and fertile land within sight 😉


  2. What a beautiful review – the way you weave the story of the book in with your own life events. And what a timely choice of book. I hope your daughter (and you) are continuing to do well!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your kind words Naomi, I think I was just pouring everything out after reading, wanting to share it before another day passed, I could have written so much more when I see how many of the pages I’ve dog-eared where there are passages I wanted to reread. I’m keeping the book to hand, since it’s one I can open at random, it’s kind of comforting, knowing all tough journeys come to their natural conclusion, all pain will be healed. We are doing well for the moment, it changes all the time, we’re just riding the wave Naomi, thank you for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh Claire, I am truly moved by this… it must have been so hard for you and yet you have created a legacy that you will be able to show your daughter one day when she (and you) have put some distance behind this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Always, always savor your posts, and heeding your advice on future reads. You are an amazing reader, writer, critic, and… mother. So many thoughts and good wishes for you and your daughter. Can only imagine the challenges you both are facing.

    Have you written (besides your blog and book reviews), either fiction or memoir? Not sure if you have, but if not you truly should.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement, this story tripped over into real life and couldn’t be told without the context we were living and the synchronicities, though as you will know that’s not usually my style.

      My goal is to eventually write fiction and I have a couple of dusty manuscripts where I’ve practised doing that, I write reviews to keep the pen from rusting and think I may be readying myself to commit to another longer form project very soon. Merci encore.


  5. I do hope your daughter is recovering, Claire. A very tough few days for you both but I’m glad you found some comfort in the book. A brave choice given the circumstances but it obviously paid off!


  6. Hi Claire
    I can se e and feel how this book has provided the support required to get you through the most difficult days following Allias surgery. Obviously given to you at this time of need, and I hope. Allia will also value it as she recovers and takes up her life anew.


  7. Such a beautiful and heartfelt post Claire, so pleased you’ve not just enjoyed this book but its magic has touched & helped you too. Wishing you and your daughter strength and best wishes for the days ahead. Xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Poppy, it was quite a turbulent journey at times and somehow the perseverance of the mother and daughter in the book and the grandfather at sea kept me going, that and my use of Facebook (unlike me) to update friends and family and ask for prayers and healing thoughts to assist!! Seriously we needed help and that was one of the few lifelines I could think of, us being so very far from family. An unforgettable experience and this book will forever be associated with that time for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a beautiful review. Everyone I know who has read the book has loved it. It seems you found each other at just the right time. I do hope your daughter is improving and I wish her a speedy recovery.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “… more like a journal than a review…” And all the more poignant and impactful for that, Claire. I always enjoy your writing, and here you have pulled me towards a book I would never have looked at in a shop or online. Thank you for that and for grounding the book in the challenges of real as well as fictional life. What a difficult time for you and your daughter and what synchronicity in choosing this book. There is a long road ahead, clearly, but I hope good health and strength lie at the end of it. Warm wishes to you and your daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. As a mother and writer and somehow always drawn to your literary sensibility, I was especially touched by the confluence of life and literature in your own life. The body never fails to amaze me — in its recuperative power, not to mention the ways in which it reacts to other people’s suffering. So glad your recovery was quick — and I wish your daughter a speedy recovery too.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Sometimes we choose books and sometimes they choose us. I’m so glad this one chose you and helped you through those hospital visits. It sounds so beautiful. I love the quoted passage and the idea of finding healing words from another generation. I hope you and your daughter are feeling better every day.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Top Reads 2016 – Word by Word

  13. Pingback: The Mountain In My Shoe by Louise Beech – Word by Word

  14. Pingback: Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech – Word by Word

  15. Pingback: A Long Absence, I Am Dust by Louise Beech – Word by Word

  16. Pingback: I Am Dust by Louise Beech – Word by Word

  17. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer 2023 – Word by Word

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s