Courage for Beginners
By Karen Harrington
Expected publication August 12, 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Mysti Murphy's life just got a lot more complicated. Her father is in the hospital and her mother never leaves the house because of the Secret No One Talks About, so getting to school and getting groceries become much more difficult tasks. In addition, her best friend Anibal has decided he wants to be a hipster this year - with no room in his plan for Mysti. Will Mysti find the courage to make it through the year?
Harrington made a big splash with her debut last year, Sure Signs of Crazy. Many of my coworkers read and loved the novel, though I haven't had a chance to read it yet. At ALA Midwinter, the publisher enthusiastically recommended her newest title and handed me a galley. She also informed me that Harrington is a Texas author, something I didn't know previously. I might have figured it out after reading this book, though.
I've had a string of middle-grade titles that I've been less than enthusiastic about recently, so I'm very pleased to be able to say I really enjoyed this book. My enjoyment of this book most heavily stems from the strength of its main character, Mysti. She is fantastic. She reminds me a lot of myself - she's smart and funny and has very few friends and, when her father has an accident, feels like she must be the responsible one in her family. My situation is not exactly the same, but I definitely felt a lot of pressure to be successful and responsible for the sake of my family. She is the kind of character for which you just root so hard. I wanted everything to just come together for her.
Everything about this book just felt so real - the characters, obviously (not just Mysti, but everyone), but also the setting (this book is very TEXAS), and the events that occur. Anibal's hipster experiment felt exactly like something a 12-year-old kid might do, one who's desperate to form a new identity for himself and attract a certain kind of girl. It was heartbreaking to watch Mysti stand by and defend him when it was clear that he was changing completely - and not for the better. It all just felt so achingly real. I think kids will definitely be able to relate.
My one major issue with the book is that no one gets involved regarding the mother's agoraphobia. Apparently, no one at the hospital questions why she doesn't visit her husband (who's in a coma) and no one at Mysti or her sister's school questions why they never see their mother. Something about it just felt a bit unlikely and concerning to me. Other than that one stumbling block, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can easily see it being a big hit this summer.
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.