An #ownvoices narrative on unexpected disability and overcoming our demons for a brighter future, Brave Enough by Kati Gardner hit shelves August 21st. It’s an uplifting tale of two people facing some major crises in their life who find each other and themselves and it’s a narrative you don’t often see in YA literature.
Cason Martin (don’t get me start on the awfulness of the name Cason) is a prima ballerina in her mother’s dance company in Atlanta but she’s been having some issues with her leg, issues she’s been hiding until her audition for a professional studio company is complete. But during that audition something goes wrong, her legs gives out, and she ends up in the hospital: and it’s worse than she thought. It’s not a strain in her muscle: it’s a tumor. Cason has cancer, and neither she nor her mother know how to handle the news or what it means for her future as a dancer.
At the same time, we meet Davis Channing, a former cancer patient (non-Hodgkins Lymphoma) in the same hospital Cason now calls home, and a recovering addict. He’s still got another year of high school left after a stint in rehab to avoid prison time and is now doing community service at the hospital. That’s where he meets Cason, and they really hit it off, but he’s still struggling with his own sobriety and the addicts around him.
Cason and Davis really hit it off, despite Cason’s mother’s disdain for Davis initially. Cason likes taking her mind off the cancer, with Uno and bets, but it’s becoming more and more clear that the future she saw for herself as a prima ballerina may not be on the table anymore. With angst and argument and a lot of revelations, Cason and Davis navigate their own struggles and then head to Camp Chemo, a week-long camp where current and former cancer patients can just be themselves without having to explain their diagnosis to anyone.
This book is really uplifting, especially for a story with cancer at its core. Seeing Cason and Davis overcome their struggles even when it is really really hard is great, and both characters are those you don’t often see in YA narratives: visibly disabled characters and characters suffering from addiction. I do appreciate that this was an #ownvoices narrative and I think that made it extremely authentic to a reader. However, it’s definitely written in a very YA style and isn’t the most detailed or careful writing. There needed, in my opinion, to be more backstory to Cason’s life as a ballerina for me to understand early on how important dance was to her future and I didn’t like how quickly the romance seemed to appear out of nowhere, but I won’t get into spoilers here.
I think the characters in this book were really fascinating. Cason’s mother had a particularly interesting character arc and I loved some of the side characters like Noah and Kelsey, people that Cason meets at the hospital. While the writing isn’t super sophisticated, it felt authentic to the narrative. Sure, I wish there had been more backstory, but I appreciated the short chapters and read this book all in one night because I wanted to see it develop.