76 pages • 2 hours readJason Reynolds
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As Brave as You is a middle grade novel written by American author Jason Reynolds and published in 2016. It won several awards, including the Kirkus Award, the NCAAP Image award for children’s literature, and the Schneider Family Book Award, which recognizes superior depictions of disability in children’s literature. It was also chosen as a Coretta Scott King Honor book, awarded to African-American writers and illustrators for excellence in conveying the African-American experience in children’s and young adult literature.
This guide uses the 2017 Atheneum edition of the novel.
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11-year-old protagonist Genie and his brother, 13-year-old Ernie, live in Brooklyn. For a month during the summer, while their own parents work out marital difficulties, they send the brothers to Virginia to visit their dad’s parents—whom the boys hardly know. Genie’s dad has been estranged from his own father Brooke, refusing to talk to him or take his kids to visit. Genie’s dad blames Brooke for pressuring Genie’s Uncle Wood into joining the armed forces rather than becoming a firefighter—Wood was killed in the Desert Storm conflict of the early 1990s. Genie discovers that both his grandparents are still mourning the loss of their son. He also discovers, on his first morning in Virginia, that his grandfather has become blind after developing glaucoma. Brooke doesn’t feel comfortable leaving the house because he becomes disoriented when he doesn’t know where things are and can’t respond to threats in his environment.
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Genie and Ernie settle into a routine at their grandparents’, helping with chores, getting to know a local girl named Tess—Ernie’s eventual mutual crush—meeting a cast of local characters, attending church with their grandmother, and exploring the woods near their grandparents’ house. An old yellow house in the woods attracts both boys’ interest. Guilt increasingly consumes Genie after he accidentally breaks the wheel off a model fire truck treasured by his grandmother because it belonged to Wood.
Genie develops a relationship with his grandfather in late-night talks and assisted walks as he helps Brooke leave the house. Brooke allows Genie into his sanctuary, a sunroom that Brooke has designed to mimic the outdoors, with birds called barn swallows in cages, false grass, houseplants, and a nature soundtrack playing. One day, Genie accidentally poisons one of the birds by feeding it apple seeds, which adds to his sense of guilt as he tries to catch another identical bird to replace it. Brooke comes to confide in his grandson over time.
One of the rituals Brooke had created for his sons and neighborhood boys was teaching them how to shoot a gun once they turned 14. Brooke was a sharpshooter in the armed forces, a role that was integral to his identity before becoming blind. He still carries a revolver despite the fact that he can’t see to shoot anymore. Brooke started the ritual in response to the murder of a local boy who supposedly showed disrespect to a white woman—Brooke wanted the young Black men in the area to be able to protect themselves. Over time, the racial motivations for the ritual lessened, but Brooke still equates it with “becoming a man.” Ernie’s 14th birthday coincides with the boys’ visit, and despite the fact that he doesn’t want to learn to shoot, Brooke, Tess’s father Crab, and Genie pressure him until he succumbs. When Ernie pulls the trigger of the gun, it recoils and hits him in the mouth, knocking out three teeth. The incident leaves both boys with a total disinterest in and distaste for guns, and makes Genie reexamine his ideas of bravery and manhood.
The title of As Brave as You refers to a joking comment Brooke makes about becoming “as brave as” Genie early in the book. The novel explores themes of guilt, inheritance, family relationships—particularly those between brothers and between fathers and sons—and coming of age.
By Jason Reynolds