[REVIEW] The Brave, by James Bird

(Buy it HERE.)

13-year old Collin has an OCD-related condition that makes him compulsively count the letters in every word said to him and blurt it out. This has gotten him bullied out of every school in the area and his distant, alcoholic dad finally can’t take it anymore. He packs up Collin and his dog and ships them both off to live with Collin’s estranged mom.

But here’s the thing–Collin’s dad is white, a California golden boy who’s fallen on hard times and doesn’t know what to do with his weird, disappointing son. Collin’s mom is Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and lives on a reservation in Minnesota. Collin doesn’t know his mom, her culture or anything about Indigenous people except for stereotypes and the casually racist and minimizing language he learned from his dad. It takes extraordinary patience on the part of his mom, challenges from the mysterious girl next door and a community of people who delight in pranking Collin using the silly stereotypes he believes to help him embrace his indigenous heritage fully.⠀

I liked this book, but have mixed feelings about it. I liked the story, the emotions pulled me in, and the characters are a lot of fun to get to know. The whole book has a freshness to it that I really enjoyed. Bird is a screenwriter by trade, and this would make a great Disney Channel movie. Also, this book has amazing representation–a multiracial neuro-atypical protagonist with side characters who are gay, non-binary, in blended and multicultural families, have chronic illnesses, and so on.⠀

But it is a middle grade novel, so it never lets you forget its messages™. Magical spirituality features pretty heavily into the story in a way that teeters perilously close to the stereotypes the book works so hard to make fun of. (Although, Bird does get points for not overexplaining his own culture, in true #ownvoices style). Other moments just had me scratching my head. For example–Collin manages to get kicked out of a dozen public schools for fighting bullies due to his condition, his mother is a public school teacher, his grandparents are old money white folks, yet somehow he never sees a therapist or social worker? Also, I won’t tell you how his condition gets “resolved”, but I thought it did disservice to neuro-atypical people, Ojibwe spirituality and…puppy love. Trust me on that last one.⠀

If I had a kid, I’d encourage them to read this but would initiate a talk about some of the stronger themes, to stretch them beyond the narrative presented here. However, just the fact that this book was published and contains all of these challenging ideas and information is remarkable and I’m happy I read it. ⠀

4 stars and a string of numbers to The Brave.

(Beautiful people! This is my last review for Native American Heritage Month 2020–I’ve learned a lot and hope you have too. Recap coming soon, and meanwhile, you can take a look at all of the titles I read and considered HERE, at the Equal Opportunity Bookshop Also, this is the part where I remind you that this blog has affiliate relationships and any clicks and purchases from links you find on these pages will result in a commission being earned! Peace!)

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