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Courage for Beginners

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Overview

Twelve-year-old Mysti Murphy wishes she were a character in a book. If her life were fictional, she'd magically know how to deal with the fact that her best friend, Anibal Gomez, has abandoned her in favor of being a "hipster." She'd be able to take care of everyone when her dad has to spend time in the hospital. And she'd certainly be able to change her family's secret.

Seventh grade is not turning out the way Mysti had planned. With the help of a hot-hair balloon, her new ...

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Overview

Twelve-year-old Mysti Murphy wishes she were a character in a book. If her life were fictional, she'd magically know how to deal with the fact that her best friend, Anibal Gomez, has abandoned her in favor of being a "hipster." She'd be able to take care of everyone when her dad has to spend time in the hospital. And she'd certainly be able to change her family's secret.

Seventh grade is not turning out the way Mysti had planned. With the help of a hot-hair balloon, her new friend Rama Khan—and maybe even the heroes of the Texas Revolution—can she find the courage to change?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
05/26/2014
Mysti Murphy has to brave at least three major trials at the onset of seventh grade. The first is having an agoraphobic mother, who never leaves the house even to chauffeur her children to classmates’ houses or extracurricular activities. The second is losing her only friend, Anibal, who has “decided to be a hipster this year” to pursue a girl and wants to avoid publicly associating with Mysti. The third obstacle is the most difficult of all, when her father falls from a tree and is hospitalized. Now Mysti must find a way to be strong and responsible while her mother becomes sadder and more withdrawn. Harrington’s (Sure Signs of Crazy) portrait of a resourceful girl weathering transitions and finding creative solutions offers an even balance of humor and painful topics relevant to middle-school readers. The way Mysti views her life, as though she’s a character in a novel (“Here we see a girl washing green beans, extracting melons, and contemplating the true meaning of friendship”), provides a fresh perspective on her thought process, environment, and yearnings. Ages 8–12. Agent: Julia Kenny, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
* "A wrenching and rewarding read."—Booklist, starred review

* "[Mysti's] wickedly good schemes to get even with Anibal and her courageous solutions to family crises will make her a compelling protagonist for sophisticated young readers."—VOYA, starred review

"Harrington's portrait of a resourceful girl weathering transitions and finding creative solutions offers an even balance of humor and painful topics relevant to middle-school readers."—Publishers Weekly

Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
Mysti Murphy’s life is already hard enough as she gets ready to start the 7th grade. She has wild red hair, crooked teeth, and an agoraphobic mother who never, ever leaves the house—which rules out extracurricular activities and getting her teeth fixed, since no one is available to drive her anywhere, including her dad, who works all the time. Now she learns that her one and only friend, Anibal Gomez, has decided that they can no longer be friends at school because he is remaking himself as a “hipster” and having a friend like Mysti would not fit with the image. They can still talk and text in the evening, he promises, and it is just until he wins over his new crush, Sandy Showalter, one of the girls on the pep squad. But Anibal goes beyond not just talking to Mysti, he starts bullying her, and newfound friend, 6th grader Rama Khan, continually points out that Mysti is a sap for continuing to defend Anibal. The world really comes crashing down when Mysti’s dad falls from a ladder and ends up in the hospital in a coma. Life gets pretty desperate after several weeks pass with no new groceries—even the dog, Larry, is getting hungry eating only the contraband school food that Mysti smuggles home. Not only is Mysti’s mom terrified of everything and everyone outside her front door, but she has also done a good job of instilling those fears in her daughters; so, it is a major act of courage for Mysti to tell her mom that she is walking a mile to the nearest grocery store to get food. And then, Mysti shows more courage by standing up to Anibal as she recognizes him for the non-friend he has become, and to even enter the school talent show—where she became the laughing stock of the school last year. Inspired by her Texas history teacher’s provocative questions about what constitutes courage, Mysti decides to read a letter written by one of the defenders of the Alamo. This is a realistic portrayal of living with mental illness, school cliques, and being bullied. Mysti is a thoroughly engaging and believable protagonist and this should not be a “girls only” recommendation. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D.; Ages 8 to 13.
VOYA, June 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 2) - Donna L Phillips
Like Sarah Nelson in Harrington’s Sure Signs Of Crazy (Little, Brown, 2013/Voya December 2013), Mysti Murphy must navigate a treacherous home situation. Mysti’s mother did not try to drown her, but her mother’s agoraphobia wields despotic control over the family’s life. Then, Mysti’s father tumbles headfirst from a tree and spends the next five months hospitalized, leaving Mysti to take care of her mother and younger sister, Laura. Mysti finds strength and comfort in her ability to make up stories for Laura and come up with daily jokes to connect with her homebound mother. Her seventh-grade school days are as troubling as her family situation, now that her longtime male friend, Anibal Gomez, spent his summer losing weight, bought a beret, and is working on becoming a hipster. He is determined to connect with cheerleader Sandy Showalter, earning his props by humiliating Mysti again and again in front of her peers. In addition to escaping through her stories and jokes, she finds consolation with two occupants of the cafeteria’s “loser island”—brainiac Wayne Kovok, who reminds everyone that his last name is an acronym and spouts “did you know” factoids; and Rama Khan, whose rainbow hijabs and loyalty gradually make her the one-word super-heroine Ramakhan to Mysti. At age twelve, Mysti may be too wise for her years, but her wickedly good schemes to get even with Anibal and her courageous solutions to family crises will make her a compelling protagonist for sophisticated young readers. Reviewer: Donna L Phillips; Ages 11 to 15.
Kirkus Reviews
2014-05-28
Harrington (Sure Signs of Crazy, 2013) offers another perceptive story of a resilient preteen coping with a parent’s mental illness.Mysti Murphy has a knack for storytelling. It gives her what her family can’t: adventures beyond her front door. Her mother has severe agoraphobia, which means her father shoulders the responsibilities of work, shopping and transportation, and things like home repairs or dental work are postponed. Fortunately, Mysti’s only friend, Anibal, doesn’t mind her situation. However, as her father often says, change comes for everyone. Hoping to date a popular cheerleader, Anibal becomes a hipster—and a bully in the process. Then, Mr. Murphy falls out of a tree, injuring his brain and plunging Mysti and her family into quiet, suspenseful panic. As emergency groceries run low, Mysti scrambles to hide their situation from her teachers and her quirky new friend, Rama Khan. Inspired by the Battle of the Alamo, she becomes determined to stand up not only to Anibal, but to the unpredictable world outside. Mysti’s curatorial narration—as if she were describing paintings or book characters—works on multiple levels, showing off her snark and emphasizing her mother’s sheltered influence. Her mother is flawed but sympathetic; she knows her fears are disproportionate, but their debilitating effect is real.With gallows humor and believable small victories, this unusual novel is a window into making friends and facing fears. (Fiction. 9-13)
School Library Journal
05/01/2014
Gr 5–8—As Mysti begins seventh grade, her father is in the hospital, leaving her at home with her younger sister, her severely agoraphobic mother, and no strategy for replenishing the food supplies. To make matters worse, her only friend, Anibal Gomez, asks her to help with his social experiment to be cool, meaning that if she talks to him at school, he'll ruthlessly make fun of her. Mysti struggles with so much change, but as she befriends sassy and supportive Rama, she slowly finds her own voice and agency. Readers will empathize with Mysti, feeling her loneliness as keenly as her triumphs. Harrington's characters are strong and real with one disappointing exception: Rama's mother, identified solely by her extreme fear that Western culture will compromise her daughter's Islamic faith, is a one-dimensional stereotype amid a cast of tenderly nuanced characters. This otherwise strong realistic novel shows that change is coming for everyone, but they can find the courage within themselves to make the best of it. A solid addition for most middle-grade collections.—Amy Koester, St. Charles City-County Library District, Wentzville, MO
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316210485
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 8/12/2014
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 115,230
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Harrington

Karen Harrington was born in Texas, where she still lives with her husband and children. She is the author of Sure Signs of Crazy and Courage for Beginners. You can visit her karenharringtonbooks.com.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2014

    Here is a girl who has created a real-feeling, sympathetic, perf

    Here is a girl who has created a real-feeling, sympathetic, perfectly imperfect girl you can relate to. I’m not talking about Mysti Murphy, the red-headed star of COURAGE FOR BEGINNERS, but author Karen Harrington who seems, like in her previous novel SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, to have a knack for painting a world full of multicolored characters and sky-high problems.

    Mysti has no dystopian villains to fight; she deals with family disaster and dysfunction with only dreams of Paris, a sense of humor, and budding courage to aid her. All while trying to stay afloat at school and pass seventh grade Texas History by building a replica of the Alamo.

    Digging deep for patience she doesn’t have, wisdom she doesn’t have, and courage she doesn’t have, Mysti takes a stand against a false friend and dire family circumstances with a Texas toughness that would make Jim Bowie proud.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2014

    SPOILER ALERT! Let me preface this rating/comment by admitting t

    SPOILER ALERT!
    Let me preface this rating/comment by admitting that I do not normally read YA fiction.  But, after hearing from a voracious reader-friend that COURAGE FOR BEGINNERS deals with a mother's agoraphobia, I was intrigued, since my mother suffered from the same condition.  After reading a few pages, I was hooked.
    Mysti Murphy is entering middle school.  Scary enough.  But adding to that stress, her father is suddenly absent, her younger sister and her mother are looking to Mysti for answers, and her heretofore best friend, Anibal, is leaving Mysti behind to join a hipper crowd.  
    Harrington nearly plops us into the middle of this drama and guides us among the nefarious, sometimes hilarious, middle school hallways, full of memorable characters.  I cheered as Mysti overcomes her mother's fearful voice playing in her head and realizes her own, undistorted reality.  Not for the faint of heart:  Mysti's trek is a genuine hero's journey, one of fears, faith, and growth.  Satisfying and thought-provoking.  Highly recommended for all ages.
      
      

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