In 12-year-old Mysti Murphy’s imagination, she wears a beret and rides a bicycle by the Eiffel Tower. In the real world, she’s counting cans of dog food and rolls of toilet paper to help her family “hold on” until her dad comes home from the hospital. Mysti also keeps a secret: Her mother never leaves the house. To make matters worse, Mysti’s best friend, Anibal, has abandoned her to join the hipster crowd.

Anyone who attended junior high will find familiarity in author Karen Harrington’s depictions of bouncing cheerleaders and kids who are your best friend one day and consider you chopped liver the next. All the young characters struggle with self-determination and are stuck navigating day-to-day obstacles largely by themselves. Like Mysti, they aren’t getting much help from the adults in their lives.

Much of Courage for Beginners rings true. Mysti’s mother, crippled by agoraphobia, can’t shelter her daughter from the changes and challenges that life will invariably throw her way. Mysti learns that courage can begin by taking just a few steps outside her own door.


Billie B. Little is the Founding Director of Discovery Center at Murfree Spring, a hands-on museum in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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