“But if you do worry, remember that being fearless doesn’t mean you’re never afraid. And if you can help someone else through their fears, you’ll be less likely to be afraid yourself.”
Kristin Johnson’s Fearless struck a chord with me, and it was not a note of fear but of empathy and nostalgia. The story’s premise is that 11-year-old Jessie Nelson and her dad head to her grandpa’s house in southern Minnesota after her active-duty mom goes missing in action. Jessie becomes friends with two local boys, Oscar and Nicky, and when an adventure turns into the discovery of a puppy mill, Jessie tries to be fearless like her mom as she rescues one of the dogs and endeavors to keep it a secret. She reflects that “now I had chosen a war, too. I hoped the research I had done at the library would help with that. The dogs were prisoners of war. Dog POWs.” This is one of my favorite aspects of Jessie’s character; Johnson does an admirable job of demonstrating how Jessie connects the events happening in her own life to what her mother or other military members might be experiencing in Afghanistan. Not only that, but the range of honest emotions and the insightful thoughts that Jessie has, such as how another person or a dog is feeling in a certain situation, add depth to her character. I love that she journals in poems, which might encourage readers to explore writing or poetry, or both! Furthermore, the imagination and thought processes of early adolescence are relatable for middle-grade readers and nostalgic for older readers.
With all that is going on in the world today, Fearless addresses how unsettling and upsetting events can cause us to grow when we rise up to meet them and help others along the way. Johnson neatly juxtaposes this with elements from The Wizard of Oz, which was particularly poignant for me because my mom loved that movie. As may be expected with a story featuring military families, serious topics appear throughout the narrative. There is a military funeral for a townsperson, and one of the characters suffers from PTSD, which is important for people of all ages to be aware of at age-appropriate levels. The puppy mill that is central to the storyline is heartbreaking to read about, but Johnson writes it in such a way that she conveys the awfulness of the situation in as palatable a manner as possible. Fearless contains Christian elements, including faith, prayer, and God’s protection—although there is a mention of a same-sex couple—and all of the aforementioned potentially triggering aspects throughout the narrative are handled with care and sensitivity. Everyone faces daunting challenges at one point or another, and it seems that Jessie sums it up best when she tells her dad: “And I know you still hurt, and you’re probably scared, but you can’t not take risks because you’re afraid of getting hurt. You have to put yourself out there again. You have to be…fearless.”
I received a complimentary copy of this book through Booksprout and was not required to post a favorable review. All opinions are my own.
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