Desert Isle Keeper
The Bravest Thing
I don’t know who put The Bravest Thing on my radar but whoever it was, please feel free to find me and collect a reward for a job well done.
Laura Lascarso is a new-to-me author, one I’m sorry to say I hadn’t even heard of before picking up this book, but I knew by the opening chapter (truthfully, the very first page) that it was going to be something special. Sweet and wonderful, utterly heartbreaking, or a mix of both (spoiler – it was a mix), I didn’t know which, but I was already feeling things. The hooks were in me instantly.
Set in small town Lowry, Texas, the story opens on Berlin Webber, your typical all-American male – blond, popular, a hard working son, and the local high school’s running back. Like so many teens his age, he’s counting down the days until the end of high school; not just for the opportunities offered by college, but because every passing day is one less day he has to hide his sexuality so as not to risk his football scholarship. He’s not entirely sure he’s gay but, “judging by [his] browser history this summer, it’s seeming more and more likely.”
So of course, on the first day of his junior year, in cruises Hiroku Hayashi on his motorcycle. With his tight pants, touchable looking hair, and the fact that he’s unapologetically wearing eyeliner, Hiro does more to affirm Berlin’s orientation with one glance than any amount of fooling around with his long-term, but saving-herself-for-marriage, girlfriend. But it’s not just for the sake of his spot on the team, or toeing the line of his current world order, that he stays in the closet. It’s also because not only is the coach a raging homophobe, but so is Berlin’s quarterback best friend, Trent – who happens to be the coach’s son.
Though Berlin is committed to staying closeted in order to ensure a future somewhere that isn’t the local community college, he can’t manage to stay away from Hiro. The other boy fascinates him, draws him in, and after breaking up with his girlfriend because he’s tired of the lies, Berlin even takes things a step further and, instead of resisting the pull or denying what he wants, asks Hiro out on a date. He tries to woo him by inviting him to see a band often displayed on Hiro’s t-shirts and inadvertently offers the other boy a temptation he’s trying so hard to resist.
The only reason Hiro is in Lowry is because he hit rock bottom. After breaking off a toxic relationship almost as damaging as the addiction it fueled, Hiro’s parents are helping him to start over. Removing him from the big city in hopes it’ll help him heal post-rehab, Hiro’s biggest struggle is no longer the drugs or his abusive rockstar ex, but facing down the daily bigotry and harassment from the football team. Berlin’s cautious friendliness, and then clumsy interest at first feels suspiciously like a prank, but Hiro quickly catches on to the other boy’s situation and a friendship blossoms. Hiro is taken in by Berlin’s goodness and kindness, yet doesn’t feel he deserves either. So used to being treated poorly, it takes time for him to understand he’s being appreciated for all that he is and that Berlin might want more than just to experiment. He pushes, challenging Berlin’s belief in God, in his ignorant friends, and the relationship – hidden though it has to be – changes them both.
And, of course, everything goes to shit soon after.
This might not sound like anything more than your typical closeted-church-going-townie story but it is. It’s so much more. Lascarso’s writing, which I initially thought to be almost simple and without frills, is compelling in a ‘can’t read fast enough’ kind of way and yet also manages to be incredibly emotional because it is simple. Her prose isn’t weighed down by unnecessary flourishes or metaphors and is pure, one-hundred percent, undiluted perfection that doesn’t distract from the characters or the events. The sweetness of the getting-to-know-you stage of a relationship, the violence that makes up hitting rock bottom and all the personalities who choose to live at that level, the hatred and bigotry wielded like a weapon against others – all are expressed or shown without crossing over into the dramatic, gratuitous, or trite. The descent into addiction and the following withdrawal is stark and raw. That very personal choice to stay close to God, or one’s faith, even when the local church turns its back on you, even when friends abandon you, is powerful without feeling preachy. The inherent goodness of these characters, all with their struggles and baggage… it;’s all so real. I had my hand on my heart for the final chapters because I was just feeling so much.
“Faith isn’t like a rule book. Just because one small piece of it isn’t working doesn’t mean you throw the whole thing out the window.”
Hiro’s journey is one he lives day by day, and he has much to overcome, not the least of which is learning to believe in and trust himself. And then there’s Berlin. He’s such an innocent in many ways, but it doesn’t mean he’s perfect. Like so many kids his age, he doesn’t always make the right choices; and yet it’s never for the wrong reason or because he’s ashamed or sticking his head in the sand. Every pace the author put him through surprised me and pointed to how refreshing and delightfully unexpected this boy is. Which I think sums up my feelings about this whole book. Unexpected.
But for all that goodness, there is darkness to this story, too. I often forgot I was reading a YA novel featuring seventeen-year-olds. Nothing about this feels young and yet so much of this story is about coming into your own, discovering yourself, and owning up to it no matter what (or who) holds you back. The happily ever after of the romance is so perfect, so well earned, and yet every step of the way is natural without feeling as though there were elements thrown in to delay things for the sake of the plot. It isn’t always an easy read but I loved every moment of it.
The Bravest Thing is heartfelt, heartbreaking, and heartwarming. This is hands down one of the best coming-out stories I’ve ever read and I can’t wait to see what else this author has to offer.