Monday, March 29, 2021

Brave in the Woods - Tracy Holczer

Summary: Critically acclaimed Tracy Holczer returns with a heartrending tale about a girl descended from the Grimm brothers who sets out to break what she thinks is a family curse.Twelve-year-old Juni is convinced her family is cursed. Long ago, her ancestors, the Grimm Brothers, offended a witch who cursed them and their descendants to suffer through their beloved fairy tales over and over again—to be at the mercy of extreme luck, both good and bad. Juni fears any good luck allotted to her family she used up just by being born, so when she wakes up in the middle of the night with the horrible feeling like antlers are growing from her head, she knows something is wrong. The next day she learns her older brother Connor has gone missing during his tour in Afghanistan.

Her family begins grieving his loss in their own ways but Juni can’t help but believe that his disappearance means the family curse has struck again. Juni is convinced the only way to bring her brother home is to break the family curse and so she sets out on a quest to do just that.

From Charlotte Huck honoree Tracy Holczer comes a stunning new novel about the power of stories, the enormity of grief, and the brilliancy of hope. (summary and pic from

My Review: It’s only natural, when you have an ancestral connection to someone like the Grimm brothers, that you would make something of that in your life, right? You might think there is some kind of connection or special relation to something related to the legacy of the Grimm brothers. If you’re 12, it might even be more tempting to make something of the connection to the Grimm brothers, especially if your family has alluded to it over the years. That brings us to the premise of Brave in the Woods. Personally, I thought this was a really cool way to explain some of the magical happenings in the book. I do have a complaint right off the bat, though. There wasn’t nearly enough development regarding this connection. I swear that the Grimm brothers were only mentioned like three times in the whole book. If you’re going to go with it, go with it. Make it something. There are plenty of places to get ancestral magic in writing, and indeed a couple of the women in this book were witches or had magical or folk magical remedies and inklings. There really wasn’t any connection developed by Holczer to the Grimm brothers, other than just saying it. I think it was a missed opportunity. It could have really been something, and at the least it could have been a way to explain to middle grade readers about some very famous authors who basically transformed an entire genre. Like I said—a missed opportunity. The whole book I was waiting for a cool development or connection to the Grimm brothers and there just wasn’t. And if there was, it was subtle enough that I missed it and I don’t mean to toot my own horn but if I missed it, and I was looking for it and know the Grimm brothers, I can’t imagine that a middle grade reader would catch it and understand it. Just sayin’.

However, I don’t think the book really needed the Grimm brothers. It was a very cool opportunity, but since it wasn’t taken, I think that it just sort of set expectations that weren’t there. These expectations could have been fulfilled without the Grimm brothers. There are many stories, like this one, that rely on ancestral magic passed down by witches or women with powers in the family and it’s all good. That would have made it a lot more natural than throwing in the Grimm brothers who really didn’t have anything to do with anything. Okay. You get it.

So there was some cool magic and mysticism going on, and it’s just the kind I like—it’s there, it means something, but it’s not so blatant that it couldn’t be believable. I always like the idea that there’s a little something that exists just outside of our knowledge. I think it captures the beliefs of the middle grade audience quite well. They’re on the cusp of knowing Things, and yet they’re just enough far removed from it that there is still a strong possibility of magic and unexplained situations that work.

I thought this book did a great job of addressing a very real hurt—that of losing a sibling to war. I have read a few books that deal with losing a sibling that took place in past wars—WWII especially—but this is a recent setting with modern technology and takes place in a world where it seems the unknown has shrunken. I liked the hope that Juni had, and her personal quest to fulfill that hope. I felt like it was an authentic portrayal of what a sibling would feel with such a loss.

I enjoyed the writing in this book, and I enjoyed the relationship between some of the characters. I wish the characters would have been more developed, and strangely, I kind of got confused about who was who, especially with the time hopping with Anya’s journal entries. I think my main problem was figuring out the relationship between all the different characters and who they were. This wasn’t explored much, and if the reader missed the maybe one sentence that explained it, too bad for you. It seemed like the characters had been very developed in the author’s mind and maybe we weren’t all let in on the secret as much as I would have liked.

Overall, I think this book has a really good message. The writing style and explanation of characters as well as the lack of the explanation of the Grimm brothers and their relationship to All the Things are things that I noticed as a person who reads and reviews a lot. I feel like the middle grade audience may have struggles with some of these things to a lesser degree but be able to understand the book for what it is—a heartbreaking yet sweet acceptance of losing a sibling and what that means.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean. There is some light kissing between two middle grade characters.

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