Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White (2015)
After their mother dies unexpectedly in a car crash, Liberty and Billie are finally getting the chance to reconnect with their absent father while on a road trip throughout the American Southwest. At least they were until they find themselves left behind at a gas station.
At first the girls see it as just a mistake that they were left behind. Their dad is used to being on his own so surely he’ll come back once he notices they aren’t there. Billie is convinced that he went to get them ice cream since it’s so hot outside. It doesn’t take long for Liberty to realize that this was no mistake.
As the oldest, it’s up to Liberty to make sure that she and Billie find their way back home. That’s no easy feat when you’re a twelve-year-old stranded at a gas station in the middle of desert with nothing but your eight-year-old little sister who seems to always be on the verge of throwing a world-class tantrum.
SOME SPOILERS AHEAD. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
What I liked: This book has a good amount of suspense where you’re wondering if Liberty and Billie will be caught or found-out. All throughout their adventure, the girls have to be sneaky and be sure that they don’t look too much like kids who have been stranded and left to fend for themselves.
The characters that Liberty and Billie encounter along the way are raw and authentic. White does not shy away from including characters with difficult pasts in Liberty and Billie’s adventure. While you never get to know too much about any of them, it’s difficult not to wonder about their story just as much as you wonder about Liberty and Billie’s story.
I liked how the story started with Liberty and Billie having just been left behind. White uses flashbacks in order to “catch the reader up” on the events leading up to this point. There’s a good balance of present events and flashback to create a cohesive story.
White’s portrayal of mental illness through Liberty’s father is real and heart-breaking; it’s tough to see what Liberty and Billie have gone through as they try to reconnect with their father and understand his situation.
I was so glad that this book didn’t end with “all is forgiven.” I was glad to see that the girls got a bit of a happy ending, but also that it wasn’t so extreme to completely throw-off the tone of the rest of the book.
What I didn’t like: Liberty’s father eventually explains to Liberty why he left the girls behind. It was a very honest point in the book, but given what we know about his comfort with keeping to himself and Liberty’s distrust and hate for him at this point in the book, it wasn’t a completely believable moment to me. It would have made more sense to me if he would have confessed this to an officer rather than Liberty herself.
My opinion in summary: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is an engaging read that will keep the reader reading to know if all turns out well for Liberty and Billie. At times this book was a little slow and dry for my tastes, but I can see middle grade readers particularly enjoying having this book read aloud. It is not a happy story per se, but there are moments of warmth in this heartbreaking tale of two girls just trying to find home and someone who will love them amidst all the loss they have experienced.
Overall rating: 6/10