How to Be Brave

How to Be Brave

by E. Katherine Kottaras


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Featured on School Library Journal's Size Acceptance YA List

Georgia has always lived life on the sidelines: uncomfortable with her weight, awkward, never been kissed, terrified of failing.

Then her mom dies and her world is turned upside down. But instead of getting lost in her pain, she decides to enjoy life while she still can by truly living for the first time. She makes a list of ways to be brave-all the things she's always wanted to do but has been too afraid to try: learn to draw, try out for cheerleading, cut class, ask him out, kiss him, see what happens from there.

But she's about to discover that life doesn't always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But in the process, you realize you're stronger than you ever imagined...

This fearless, big-hearted, deeply moving book will make you laugh, cry, and inspire you to be brave.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250072801
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/03/2015
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 5.80(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

E. Katherine Kottaras is at her happiest when she is either 1) at the playground with her husband and daughter and their wonderful community of friends, 2) breathing deeply in a full handstand, or 3) writing. She now lives in Los Angeles where she's hard at work on her next book.

Read an Excerpt

How to be Brave

By E. Katherine Kottaras

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 E. Katherine Kottaras
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8467-0


This is what it was like:

I didn't want you to come. I didn't want you there.
The day before school, the very first year,
we waited in line for my schedule.

They stared. Those in line around us —
the other girls and their moms,
the ones who were my year,
who were never my friends —
They saw how you were big, planetary, next to them.
Next to me.

The girl in pigtails, someone's sister,
asked: Is there a baby inside?
Her mother, red now, whispered in her ear.
But the girl didn't mind:
Oh, so she's fat.

The other girls, the ones who were my year
who were never my friends — they laughed at you, quietly.
At me.

Her mother said she was sorry, so sorry,
And you said: It's fine. It's fine.
But it wasn't.

You squeezed my hand, and then to the girl in pigtails, you said: I am big, yes. But I am beautiful, too.

And so are you.

Her mother pulled her child away.
She left the line and let us go first.

I didn't say: You shouldn't have come.
I didn't say: I don't want you here.

But I also didn't say: I love you.
Or: Thank you for being brave.

Later that night, I cried:
I don't want to go. I don't want to face them.
And every year after.

You'd look at me like I was that girl,
and you'd say, as though it were true:
You are possibility and change and beauty.
One day, you will have a life, a beautiful life.
You will shine.

I didn't see it. I couldn't see it,
not in myself,
not in you.

* * *

Now, it's not like that anymore.

This is what it's like:

It's quiet in our house. Too quiet. Especially tonight. The day before my first day of senior year.

The A/C hums, the fridge hums, the traffic hums.

I'm standing at my closet door, those old knots churning inside my stomach again.

I don't want to go tomorrow.

I need to talk to her.

Instead, I've done what she always did for me the night before the first day of the school year. I've picked out three complete outfits, hung them on my closet door.

It's a good start, I guess.

Outfit #1: Dark indigo skinny jeans (are they still considered skinny if they're a size 16?), drapey black shirt, long gold chain necklace that Liss gave me, and cheap ballet flats that hurt my feet because they're way too flat and I hate wearing shoes with no socks.

Outfit #2: Black leggings, dark blue drapey knee-length dress (draping is my thing), gold hoop earrings that belonged to my mom, and open-toed black sandals, but that would mean a last-minute half-assed pedicure tonight. A spedicure, if you will.

Outfit #3: A dress my mom bought for me two years ago. The Orange Dress. Well, really more like coral. With embroidered ribbons etched in angular lines that camouflage my flab. Knee-length (not too short/not too long). Three-quarter-length sleeves (to hide the sagging). It's perfectly retro. And just so beautiful. Especially with this utterly uncomfortable pair of canary-colored peep-toe pumps that belonged to my mom.

I begged her for the dress. I made her pay the $125 for it.

I knew my parents didn't have the money, but I couldn't help crying when I saw myself in the mirror. It fit (it's a size 14), and I think she saw how pretty I felt because I did feel pretty for the first time, so she charged it.

But I've never worn it.

The day after, she went into the ER, her heart acting up again. She needed another emergency stent, which meant more dye through her kidneys, which meant dialysis a few weeks later, which meant the beginning of the end of everything.

I never put it on after that.

It's just so bright. So unlike everything else I wear.

I could wear it tomorrow.

I could. And if she were here, she would tell me to.

I really need to talk to her.

It's just so quiet in this house.

* * *

My dad's in the living room, in his spot on the farthest end of the old couch, fists clenched tight, watching the muted TV. If he's not at the restaurant, he's there, sitting in the dark, staring at silent, flashing images. Watching the Cubs lose again or counting murders on the news or falling asleep to old John Wayne movies on AMC (no commercials). I sit down next to him.

The worn leather is cold against my calves.

I hear my mother's voice: John Askeridis came to this country in 1972. He had to borrow money only once. He worked his way up from nothing. A self-made man. He was suave. Refined. A true Greek gentleman.

Now he looks old and worn and lost.

"Give me your hand, Dad."

He looks at me, his eyebrows furrowed.

"Unclench your hands." I pull apart his clenched hand, force him to relax. "You know it's not good for you." You know it's what she would have done.

He lifts his hand and pulls at my nose. "Don't worry, koúkla. You worry too much about me." He takes me by the wrist, and I sink down into the couch next to him. He wraps his arm around my neck. I'm ten years old again. I'm safe here, with him. We're okay without her. It's all going to be okay.

"Dad, come on. Get up from the couch. Let's go do something. Let's get out of here, go get dinner or something." Let's be brave.

"Georgiamou, you go. Go with your friends." He sighs and turns his gaze back to the TV. "I've nothing to do."

* * *

Monday morning, 6:45 A.M. Clybourn and Fullerton, waiting for the 74 bus. It's been ten minutes. The sun is already burning hot on my skin. Stupid CTA. Chicago public transit wants to ruin my life.

I check my phone for a bus update. I can't be late on my first day. They'll give me detention. They got so strict at the end of last year. But they wouldn't do it on the first day, would they?

Shit. There I go again. Always expecting the worst.

Her letter is in my bag. I rub the folds of paper between my fingers, close my eyes to imagine my mom's pen running over it, her wrist touching the paper.

I'm trying to think positively. To be brave.

Okay, here goes. Positive Thought #1: I did it. I'm wearing the Orange Dress.

I didn't sleep much last night. I stayed up reading and I dozed off maybe around three A.M. When the alarm went off at six, I opened my eyes, and it called out to me. I jumped out from under the sheets and ripped off the price tag.

Today's the day to start all over. Today's the day to start living for her.

My bus arrives. I slide my card through the slot, and the crusty old driver tips his hat to me. "Look at that smile! The sun just got himself a reason to shine, little lady."

Well, there's Positive Thought #2. Thanks, crusty old man. I needed that.

* * *

I get off the bus to the sound of the first warning bell blaring two blocks away. I'm sure the swarming masses of eager freshies (and somewhat less so sophomores and juniors) are already filed like cattle at the front gate, shuffling through the metal detector. Principal Q-tip is probably standing at the gate, champing at the bit to sign us up for detention. Especially for us seniors. I'm nearly knocked over by a couple of guys who are racing down the sidewalk. I refuse to run. Not today. Not in these shoes.

I try my best to stride gracefully across the concrete, to Own This Dress, never mind the beads of sweat pouring down my back.

"Hey, Ass-keridis."

Avery Trenholm and her posse with their Hollister/A&F/PINK ad-shirts, who've never had to work for anything, not a pair of jeans, not a grade (when your mom's a doctor and your dad's an engineer, shit like trigonometry and physics is encoded into your DNA), and certainly not their matching diamond-encrusted lockets.

Avery flips her sleek, straight hair. "Nice dress." Except she doesn't mean it. She'd never be caught dead in a dress like this. She's wearing these hideous nearly microscopic fringed denim shorts that might fit around my one ankle.

"Yeah." Chloe, Avery's slender and air-brained bitchy-junior-wannabe sidekick, gives me a once-over and says, "It's so, um, vivid." I don't know why she has anything to say. We've never exchanged more than two words to each other.

I keep moving forward. The second warning bell rings. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. Positive thoughts. Positive thoughts. Get to the front door.

Chloe is still examining me, her empty blue eyes moving up and down my body. "It's so bright ... like a sun."

Avery snorts. "Or like a pumpkin."

Chloe shakes her head. "Oh no, Avery. It's too early for Halloween. It's not even September yet."

What an idiot. I'm not even sure if she's realized what she just said to me. But Avery does. Avery is glaring at me, a cold smirk etched between those freakishly large dimples.

I'm busting to say something, to do something, but I'm frozen, even as I walk toward the door. I've never stood up to these bitches. I just let them get to me, over and over. Liss tells me I need to stand up for myself. She's better at this stuff. She's good at knowing exactly how to respond at exactly the right time. But I never know what to say.

My mom used to tell me to just stay away from them. She'd say there were thousands of kids in my school, a whole surrounding city to get lost in. But it's not like that. We've all been in the same class forever, most of us from first grade. We picked up a few kids from other feeder schools, but for the most part, we've been stuck together, the same pre-AP group moved into the same AP group. In some other time-space dimension, we were all friends once, chasing one another, the boys snapping our bras and us giggling back. Then we split up into various subgroups: the nerdherd, the hippie wannabes, the emos, and, of course, worst of all: the richy-bitchies. They watched me go from the cute, chubby-cheeked pigtailed six-year-old to the not-so-cute, chubby-cheeked overpermed sixth grader, to the beyond-any-possibility-of-cute, obviously overweight seventeen-year-old. So where did I end up in all of this? With Liss, in No-Woman's-Land. The history is there, and it's hard to ignore.

"Well, it's a cute dress, anyway." Avery broadens her fake smile. "It just would look better on me, that's all."

I stop in my path. What a bitch. I feel the tears start to well. I can't cry. I just can't. Not now. Not in front of them. Not today.

I hear a voice call out from ahead: "Hey, Avery, nice camel toe."

Liss. My savior. She's walking toward us, away from the school. For me.

Avery looks down at her crotch, horrified.

"Hey, Chloe," Liss continues. "Did you finally get that nose job this summer?"

Chloe's eyes widen in terror. "Well, no! What makes you think —"

"Oh, too bad. Maybe next summer," Liss says. "It'll look nice on you. Once you get it smaller, it'll finally fit your beady little eyes."

Chloe grabs her face.

Liss locks elbows with me and pulls me toward the front door, leaving Avery and Chloe to examine themselves with their camera phones.

"I love the dress," she says, whisking me forward.

"Not too fast," I whisper. "The shoes. They're more excruciating than Avery Trenholm's hideous voice."

The last bell rings. We've made it.

* * *

I've been assigned Locker #13. Well, that can't be good.

Sorry, I forgot: positive thoughts.

I look around. We're in a new section, the senior floor up top, but it's all the same faces, just a little bit older, a little less pimply. Everyone's scrambling to jam their shit into their lockers. Liss is way down the hall, Locker #47.

Okay. Think, Georgia, think. Be brave.

And then I see it. Positive Thought #3: Daniel Antell. There he is. Cute Daniel. Tall Daniel. Totally sexy Daniel with those übersharp scapulae (oh, what a back) and that thick, slightly mussed-up hair. Daniel, who I've been staring at for three years, who trips me up every time we talk (we've had all of three conversations); his smiling eyes fixate on me, and the words in my brain become a jumbled mess. All otherwise intelligent, organized thoughts crumble in his presence.

He's at Locker #10.

Three doors down.

So close to me.

He sees that I'm staring at him, so he smiles and waves. And what's the first thing I do? I look down, at my schedule. (Smile back, damn it!)

I force myself to look back up at him, and I muster out a "Hey."

That's it. Just "Hey."

"What's your schedule?"

I look behind me. He must be talking to someone else. Only quiet Steve Westerman is there, and he's busy overthinking the organization of his one-foot-by-five-foot locker space.

I look back at Daniel. "Oh, um ... Let's see." I fumble with my schedule. "Um, AP history, with Springfield — that should be fun; chem, with that nut-job Zittel ..."

"Oh yeah, they call him Zitzoid. Good luck with that."

Daniel's just so nice. He's not part of any subgroup, but instead he navigates them all fluidly. Always has. I mean, he's not especially interested in being part of any one group. And Liss doesn't get why I like him so much. He's too lanky, she says, and too sensitive. She's had a bunch of AP science classes with him and even got to be his lab partner in bio last year. She said he had a hard time during dissection, that he didn't want to be the one to cut open the frog. I don't know why that's so bad (I couldn't have done it, either), but she says she just can't think of him as anything more than a brother. If only that were my problem, I could talk to him like a normal person.

"Thanks," I force out. "I'll need it."

He walks to my locker and looks over my shoulder to read my schedule. "What else you got?" I can smell him. Like pine or rosemary or some dark scent.

"What's the rest of your schedule?" he asks me again. But I'm solid stone. No, really, I've turned to actual granite. I'm a boulder in a giant orange dress. My legs are heavy, my shoulders heavy, my blood heavy, and everything is still. Except that I can feel the pounding of my heart inside my brain. I hope he doesn't hear it, too.

He takes the paper from my shaking hand and reads it aloud: "Let's see there. Oh, cool, AP English with Langer, math with Keynes, and art with Marquez. I'm taking art too." (Swooon.) "And I had Keynes last year."

I force out actual human words spoken in English (though they come out sounding more like mouse squeaks). "Is she hard?"

"Yeah. A total hard-ass. And nuts, too. She stands outside the classroom during quizzes with one of those little dental mirrors and pokes it around the corner to see if we're cheating."

He laughs. Those eyes. Those smiley, half-moon, beautifully creased, kindest-eyes-I've-ever-seen. Oh God. Stomach. In. Knots. Mouth. Frozen. Cannot. Speak.

I move my lips into a smile. At least it feels like a smile. I wish I weren't frozen. Then I could laugh, too. A nice, hearty human laugh.

He breaks what has now become the Most Awkward Silence Ever. "But that's cool, you know. It looks like we have one class together. I heard Marquez is cool."

I nod.

"So I'll see you fifth period, then." He shrugs and hands me the schedule. His fingers graze mine.

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. So many yeses.

"Uh-huh. For sure," I muster out. "See you then."

And then he's gone.

Shit. Now what.

Okay, Georgia: Courage, like Mom said.

Here goes. Positive Thought #4: I didn't crumble into a million grains of sand when his skin touched mine. I'm still alive. I'm breathing. And he talked to me.

And in six hours, I'll be in the same room with him again. Every day this year. Oh my, I think that just might be Positive Thought #5.

I slam my empty locker closed and run down the hall toward Liss. Pumps be damned.

* * *

The rest of the day is fairly anticlimactic in contrast with the First Official Locker Date, which is what Liss and I will call it forever.

History, decent; chemistry, confounding; English, fun; and math, I don't remember too well since Keynes spent the whole time speaking in tongues — sorry, I mean equations. Art, I also don't remember too well since I spent the whole time staring at Daniel, who somewhat unfortunately was seated on the other side of the room, though the position gave me a perfect view of his sharply chiseled profile. (Siiigh.)


Excerpted from How to be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras. Copyright © 2015 E. Katherine Kottaras. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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