Courage for Beginners - Karen Harrington

It's always difficult to read a second novel from somebody that you so greatly admire. I love Harrington's first novel for young readers, Sure Signs of Crazy. It's dark, deep, and beautiful, and still manages to contain moments of humour in the face of tragedy. But this isn't a review of that first book for young readers. This is a review of Courage for Beginners.
I don't know much, but I do know people stop to look at unusual things. People slow down to look at car accidents. People pull out their cameras to snap pictures of orange sunsets. People lie on the grass in the dark if a news reporter says you might spot a meteor shower after midnight. 
... In school I learned that if you are really quiet, people will think you are smart. This is another trick. I'm not smart. I just can't stop thinking. I sit here motionless and still. Thinking. There is nothing else to do. 
While I must begin by saying that I still like Sure Signs of Crazy the most, I very much enjoyed this one as well. Our protagonist, Mysti, has to take on a lot of responsibility after her father ends up in the hospital after a terrible accident and her agoraphobic mother refuses to leave the house. Mysti ends up taking care of her sister, the house, the grocery shopping, and performing many other tasks no young person should have to deal with. She slowly begins to find her own way in the world, deciding who to trust and become friends with, and who to cut loose after too many betrayals in a few short months. Her friend Anibal has decided he wants to become a hipster, but in doing so, he has become a terrible friend to Mysti. She doesn't want to let him go, but she has to decide at some point!

Mysti is a refreshing and delightful protagonist, with many interesting insights into the world around her. As she tries to understand her mother's condition and the world around her that she has not been exposed to before, she develops into a truly remarkable girl. Her talents blossom and her hopes and dreams slowly take shape as she moves through the school year and tries to figure out how to help her sister and mother while her father is hospitalized.

Although I do wish a few more things had been wrapped up by the end of the book, part of me also likes the ambiguities that we are left with as readers. Supporting characters like Wayne Kovok and Rama Khan help bring the story to life and create a well rounded world. Characterization is truly the strong part of Harrington's writing, and though the plot is very much interesting, the building of Mysti and the surrounding cast is possibly the most wonderful part of the novel. Harrington does a marvellous job of dealing with intense issues and young characters, and she does it incredibly well!



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