Story Snug is today’s stop on Daisy May Johnson’s How To Be Brave blog tour. Reminiscent of the boarding school stories I loved as a child, How To Be Brave includes secret tunnels, codebreaking, helicopter flying nuns, rare ducks and umpteen delicious references to cakes and biscuits (including a hidden stash!). This fast paced, middle grade mystery, with its cast of strong, resourceful female characters, intertwines bravery, heartbreak and humour as its young heroine bravely races to rescue her mother before her mother’s last packet of biscuits runs out…
The Story: Elizabeth North lives an idyllic life with her parents but after their death she is sent to The School of the Good Sisters, a boarding school run by nuns. Elizabeth slowly settles into her new home and nursing an injured duck helps her deal with her grief – it also initiates a lifelong fascination with a rare duck, Mallardus Amazonica, and leads to a gripping adventure involving her daughter Calla and a mysterious organisation.
When Elizabeth is given the opportunity to go to The Amazon to look for the duck she jumps at the chance and sends her daughter Calla to The School of the Good Sisters. While Calla waits for her mother to phone she discovers that the school has changed, and not for the better. It’s now run by Elizabeth’s former classmate and nemesis, Magda DeWitt, who has held a lifetime grudge against her. When Calla learns that Elizabeth has been kidnapped a battle of wits and wills escalates between her and Magda as Calla tries to find out where her mother is…
Calla and Elizabeth (a widow after the death of Calla’s father) live a hand to mouth existence. Duck obsessed Elizabeth has difficulty coping with everyday aspects of life, holding down a job and paying bills – more often than not it is Calla who acts as the adult in the relationship. Calla is strong-willed and intelligent and develops coping strategies to deal with her mum and the situations they find themselves in – one of the most heartbreaking moments is the way that they spend a cold Christmas Day with nothing but each other.
The School of the Good Sisters provides a home for both characters although their experiences are very different. Elizabeth experiences kind, albeit slightly eccentric, teachers who teach aircraft maintenance, camouflage skills and hold biscuits in high priority. The school menu for Calla includes kale and Brussel Sprout cake, the students’ phones are confiscated and they are locked in dormitories. But both characters form strong friendships, Elizabeth’s best friend Chrissie still teaches at the school when Calla arrives and Calla’s roommates, chatty, resourceful Hannah and rebellious French girl Edie, are instrumental in helping her fight to expose evil headteacher Magda.
Magda is a fabulous villain and one of our favourite characters is her sidekick, security guard Gareth, who can always be distracted by conversations about recipes for perfect patisserie. When Calla arrives, the pupils are planning a revolution against Magda’s policies – the removal of kind nuns and the implementation of strict school rules and a disgusting new menu that doesn’t include sweet treats.
Teamwork, quick thinking and the determination of pupils and staff lead to a satisfying and extraordinary conclusion including bonfires, daring rooftop escapades and a helicopter. Telling you any more would spoil the story which I really don’t want to do…
How To Be Brave is a fabulous celebration of girl power in which ordinary situations are intertwined with friendship, kindness, humour, bravery and the eccentricity of individual character quirks. But the story also confronts the bravery shown by the characters through their experience of poverty, grief and single parenthood, the strength of the relationship between Elizabeth and Calla is really heartwarming. Copious footnotes add to the chatty, easy to read style of the text which had us totally immersed in the story from start to finish.
Author: Daisy May Johnson
Thank you Pushkin Press for sending a review copy of How To Be Brave. We love it and can’t wait to read the next book – How To Be True 🙂
You can read more about How To Be Brave on the other blogtour stops;