How To Be Brave by Daisy May Johnson (Pushkin Press)
electronic proof provided by NetGalley and Pushkin
I can't remember when I became a fan of the school story genre. I definitely read Blyton's Malory Towers books as a child and I enjoyed them, however I wasn't such a fan of her St. Clare's series. I also recall borrowing Anne Digby's Trebizon books as a teenager.
At some point before I left school I discovered The Chalet School books and even as an undergrad I wasn't ashamed of reading the genre - and there were some hardbacks in the Uni library so reading them counts as study surely?! With the growing internet I found out about fan clubs and that there were other authors who wrote in the genre and lo! a collection was started.
I've never been ashamed of reading children's books, even in public, and Twitter has been a great way to find likeminded people and new books. This was how I found Johnson and the news of her book.
How to Be Brave is very much in the traditional school story mould - due to a series of events and mishaps Calla ends up at the boarding school her mum attended but all is not well at this incredibly unorthodox convent school. Somehow it is all related to Calla, her mum and a rare duck...
The book mixes school stories, adventure stories, a few gentle issues and healthy dollop of Arthur Ransome - but at no point did it feel derivative and I loved reading something so familiar and yet so new. It also features biscuits and other sweet treats. Lots of them - & I defy you to read this book without at least wanting to raid the biscuit tin!
The title 'How to Be Brave' relates to so much of the story and it isn't about big acts - Johnson recognises that for each of us bravery means something different and explores this in such a gentle way that it is only afterwards you realise just how cleverly and subtlety she has made the point.
There's lots of humour and Johnson makes much use of footnotes throughout the book. These act in the traditional way, as a way of crowbarring an extra plot in, and also as a Basil Exposition. By the end of the book I was a little weary of them but they were in the main great fun - I can see that the will make the book hard to read aloud however.
This was a fun book, and I'm hoping that Johnson will write more as it was a lovely to spend a couple of afternoons with her characters.
I'm looking forward to finding out what other readers thought about this fun read.
The book is published by the wonderful Pushkin Press and can be ordered directly from them here, but do also check out your local library and see if they have copies (and ask them to order it if they don't) as authors do get an income from library loans.