Ever since second grade, twelve-year-old Lilla and her best friends, Vivi and Knox, all wish on dandelions at the end of the school year--and whoever blows the hardest gets to declare a summer challenge for the others. Vivi and Knox are the only ones who are really competing, of course; where Vivi is determined and Knox is funny, Lilla is just quiet. She'd rather say nothing and make everyone happy than risk throwing herself out there.
But when Vivi declares it the Summer of Brave, that's exactly what she wants Lilla to do. And this summer, there's a lot not to be brave about.
There's her parents' divorce, of course, where they're intent on what they think is best for her rather than asking her what she really wants. And she can't help but lie about the prestigious high school they're already intent on getting her admitted to, because how can she tell them she doesn't want to go when they're so proud of her qualifying for an application? And then there's a catcalling college student who's a supervisor at her summer volunteer job, whose harassment everyone dismisses as no big deal.
Lilla's sure that talking about these things will just make her life more difficult. But maybe telling the truth is what she needs most.
Unflinching, realistic, and beautiful, Summer of Brave manages to say so much in a relatively short book, and I loved every word of it. Navigating friendships, feminism, academic pressure, divorce, girls in STEM, and so much more is tied together into a quiet, brave story which gains its power from both when Lilla speaks up and when she feels she must remain silent. Many books about being brave seem to present it from a single angle, which includes becoming constantly, effortlessly confident, but this book doesn't--Lilla remains quiet and shy while still becoming brave, a powerful and too-rare nuance which was part of why I loved her character so much. I also loved how Lilla feels the seemingly conflicting pressures to be 'girly' and smart/groundbreaking, and her struggle with what everyone seems to think is the 'right' way to be a girl. This story never feels preachy or contrived; instead, it paints a realistic portrait of the many layers of Lilla's life with compelling honesty. In addition to Lilla, the supporting characters, especially Vivi, Knox and Lilla's parents, were very realistic, and even when I didn't agree with them, I understood where they were coming from. I highly recommend Summer of Brave to readers ages ten and up, particularly those who enjoy thoughtful realistic fiction.