Sunday, 3 November 2013
Fearless by Chris O'Guinn ****.5
Fearless by Chris O'Guinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read this book at the recommendation of a friend, a friend whose taste I totally trust, and he did not let me down this time. Before I even get going with this review though I will warn you, this book has a sad ending, a break your heart ending. Go in knowing this, but don't let it put you off.
Justin is that kid at high school who just wants to get to the end of the day without too many knocks. At the start of this book he has a very low opinion of himself, he literally just tries to make it through the day and considers anyone saying anything pleasant to him a bonus. Now I've read books where self loathing characters are really annoying. The kind where, as a reader, you know they are brilliant or beautiful or witty or fit and it feels so contrived. That wasn't the case with this book. I totally believed in Justin and, rather than being annoying, I found it very true to life. I felt for him, could absolutely sympathise with him and wanted things to get better for him. It seemed, to me, that Chris O'Guinn knew the character of Justin so well, he wasn't just there as a characterisation but a real person, with real feelings - it would have been so easy to make him a stereo-type 'loser', or geek turn jock, but he didn't do this and I absolutely thank him for it.
So Justin started out just getting through the day, written in the first person we hear Justin's internal dialogue, the quirky, funny - and often wrong - observations that he makes to himself, the ones that he doesn't dare say to anyone else, the ones you really, really wish he had a friend to share them with. He's a funny guy, in a cynical, quietly sarcastic, way. And then Liam turns up. Liam is the boy that Justin has stereotyped as a stoner, loser, probably on bail, guy. Yet Liam has a confidence that Justin envies and it comes as a surprise to Justin when Liam doesn't quite fit the pigeon hole that he has ready for him. In fact Liam is nothing like the stone-head burgeoning criminal Justin thought he was, he has confidence and a 'live life' attitude that starts to rub off on Justin and slowly a friendship develops.
With Liam's help, Justin comes out at home and it is Liam who supports him through this rocky time. Liam is the one who encourages him to join the swim team, encourages him to find a boyfriend, encourages him to start becoming the real Justin, instead of the one who thinks getting through the day in one piece is good enough. But Liam has a secret and it is one that could break Justin's world apart.
I loved all the characters in this book, especially Justin. I think Chris O'Guinn did a fantastic job of changing him from the awkward, low self-esteemed boy we first meet, to the captain of the swim team that he becomes. He does it in such a natural way, nothing feels contrived, the story grows organically and works really well. Justin still has his confidence issues, but he learns how to handle them so the change feels very believable and I really appreciated this. While this book is full of great characters, not least Justin's swim team mentor and crush Kanoa, it's the friendship between Justin and Liam that is absolutely key to this story and it is one of the best friendships I have seen between the pages of a book (or in the confines of an e reader). It's the kind of friendship you are desperate to read more about, the kind that grabs you and doesn't let go until the end of the book. The kind that has you reaching for the tissues.
Yep, that kind. Some parts of this story are very sad - I don't want to go into detail because I don't want to spoil it - but I will say that, again, the author handles the story line really well. Real life sucks at times and your heart, I'm sure, will be breaking - mine most certainly was. But please, if you like YA, if you like friendship, if you like believable, loveable characters - read this book. Just have the tissues handy.
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Posted by Lorix at 20:08