Thursday, May 20, 2021

Jeannie Zokan's 'Courage Without Grace' is a beautiful tapestry of a novel

Title: Courage Without Grace
Author: Jeannie Zokan
Genre: New Adult/Women's Fiction
Pages: 228
Published: March 30, 2021
Buy Courage Without Grace
Buy The Existence of Pity

What Goodreads has to say:

Josie Wales doesn't need her palm reading skills to know her lover is seeing someone else. It's time to end it, but she's been with Tom for seven years. And there’s something—someone—she needs to tell him about. That secret keeps pulling her back, but this time she's determined to break it off.

To find the courage to end the relationship, Josie seeks advice from new acquaintances. But she somehow manages to make an even bigger mess of her life. When Jack, Tom’s twin and her childhood friend, comes to DC to reconnect, he helps Josie get her feet back on the ground.

Just as Josie is beginning to resolve the chaos in her life, a tragic secret from her past comes back to haunt her. Before she can move forward and have a second chance at love, she must face her grief and loss.

With characters that leap off the page, Courage Without Grace is a poignant novel that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

What I have to say:

I'm not usually a fan of modern day romance/self-fulfillment narratives, so when I say I couldn't put Jennie Zokan's beautiful novel Courage Without Grace down, that's a very high compliment.

Of course, having already read Zokan's The Existence of Pity (the prequel to Courage Without Grace), I knew I could trust her to tell a compelling, moving, entertaining story. And I was not disappointed. 

This vibrant novel is like a colorful tapestry--there are so many threads weaving in and out of each other, going in completely unexpected directions, leading you on to see where they end and what new patterns they'll create, in the end forming a cohesive picture of a young woman's broken but beautiful life. 

Josie Wales is that young woman, and she's the best kind of flawed character: conflicted, consistently making bad decisions, but good at heart and full of love. While I repeatedly found myself thinking, "Really, Josie? This is a terrible idea," I never found her annoying or hard to understand. Rather, it was one of those rare cases where the main character is so easy to identify with that I felt like I was seeing the story through her eyes and I understood where she was coming.

Then again, there are a few things about Josie that I didn't find out until nearly the end of the book. These mystery threads, along with the easy grace of the writing and the fun, lively characters, kept me reading hungrily. 

As I've already mentioned, Josie is a very complex, well-developed character. But the other characters in the book are also compelling. Tom, Josie's longtime lover, is perhaps just as complex as she is, and the enigma of his changed personality is another thread I had to follow to the end. Then there's Tom's twin Jack, who, aside from maybe Josie, is 100% my favorite character. Chemistry can be hard to write, but the dynamite of Jack and Josie's relationship had me rooting for them as a couple almost from the moment Jack showed up in the story. 

So yes, romance is a big part of Courage Without Grace, but it's not the whole picture. This story is less about romance than it is about Josie's personal quest for healing, fulfillment, and belonging. After a difficult childhood, her faith in a higher power, in other people, and in herself is foundering. (While it's a sequel to The Existence of Pity, Courage Without Grace could really stand alone.) 

On the subject of a higher power, I loved how the author presented Josie's interactions with her inner voice. In dangerous situations, or when she has to make a crucial decision, Josie turns to the voice she sometimes hears in her head. As a person of faith, I really appreciated that this was such a big part of the book, and I liked that it was open to interpretation. The author doesn't tell us who or what this inner voice is, which allows the reader to interpret it in the way that's most meaningful for them. I think (and hope) that most people, whether they believe in God or not, have at some point felt something telling them to do or not do something. 

Josie pictures this voice as a sort of guardian angel:

"I closed my eyes and envisioned my inner voice as a winged angel in white robes. Tears ran down my cheeks as I leaned into her arms. I looked into her beautiful face, and she smiled down on me."

Without getting too off topic, this passage connected to things I've been reading and thinking about a lot lately, and I found this a very moving image. I love that the author didn't shy away from this moment and that she presented it with such beauty and clarity.

So at the end of the day, this isn't just a self-fulfillment or coming of age narrative either. It's a powerful story that, like a tapestry, weaves together romance, coming of age, women's issues, and more. And I for one absolutely loved it.


Until tomorrow.

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