different kind of brave coverRating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Nico Hall was dumped by his foster family and sent to a religious “reprogramming” facility in California, led by the pseudo-preacher, Dr. H. There, Nico and 69 other young LGBTQ teens, some as young as 11, have been tortured and abused all in an attempt to make them straight. The teens are being held captive, and Nico is determined to escape and bring back help for the others. When he manages to break out of the facility, Nico goes on the run and heads south of the border, but he knows Dr. H and his henchmen are hot on his trail.

Sixteen-year-old Sam Solomon is a wealthy and privileged New Yorker, but with parents who barely pay him any attention. Sam idolizes James Bond and imagines what his life would be like if he was smooth and confident like Bond, rather than his awkward and sometimes needy self. Sam’s recent break-up with a guy who in hindsight wasn’t really into him at all has made Sam even more out of sorts.

When Sam ends up on vacation at the Mexican resort where Nico is working, the boys meet and strike up a friendship and a romantic connection. The two end up spending days and nights together and forming a real bond, one that Sam would like to turn into something more. But Nico is still on the run, still desperate to find a way to help his friends, and he knows pursuing anything more serious with Sam is just not possible. However, when both young men are threatened, Sam and Nico realize that they will need to fight for each other and their friends in order to stop Dr. H from ruining even more lives.

A Different Kind of Brave by Lee Wind is a really engaging and entertaining young adult story. I wavered a little with how to rate this, as there are parts of this story I found just incredibly compelling and I couldn’t put down, and other places that didn’t work quite as well, but I think overall there is really a lot to enjoy here and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the book.

The story is told in dual POVs from Sam and Nico. We open with Nico as he is about to break out of Dr. H’s reprogramming institute and we are thrust right into the action. We see Nico making his daring escape and fleeing from Dr. H’s men. It gives us a chance to see Nico’s cleverness, as well as his compassion. He knows others are sacrificing to help him escape and he is determined to find a way to get everyone else free too. Even as Nico is running for his life, he feels guilty about stealing someone’s mountain bike out of their garage (and sends them money later to pay them back). It is just a great introduction to not only the intensity of the situation, but also to Nico as a character.

We then follow along as Nico goes on the run in South America, eventually ending up a stowaway on a luxury cruise ship taking a month-long sail. There he meets a man named Warren, who is in end-stage ALS and taking the trip as sort of a last bucket list item. Warren is using a wheelchair and traveling with his sister, who is overprotective and coddling out of fear for him. Nico ends up befriending Warren and becomes sort of a friend/companion/caretaker, helping Warren enjoy these amazing places and have some wonderful experiences. Warren also becomes a confidant for Nico and the two just have this incredibly lovely relationship. I just adored Nico and loved his friendship with Warren, and I found Nico’s portions of the story really compelling and wonderfully written.

We also get POVs from Sam and I struggled a little here, as I didn’t find myself connecting with him in nearly the same way as I did with Nico. Wind does a great job making it clear just how neglectful Sam’s parents really are. They give him every material possession he could want and more, but they have no time for him and can barely be bothered to parent — right down to taking off on a many-months-long world vacation without Sam, leaving their 16-year-old son alone to care for himself for half a year. I could really feel for Sam and understand where he struggled, and why he used James Bond as a symbol to himself of the strength and confidence he wishes he had. That said, Sam is so rich and privileged, it got to be a lot. Sam’s parents buy him everything he wants and there is just this non-stop name dropping of every designer brand and every fancy thing he has. When combined with Sam’s obsession with all things Bond (up to and including apparently buying his entire wardrobe and accessories out of things worn by Bond in various movies), it just overwhelmed me and made him less sympathetic, particularly in comparison with Nico, who has literally been kidnapped and tortured. Just as some examples:

Five minutes before landing, Sam pulled out the Montegrappa James Bond 007 Spymaster Duo rollerball pen and his journal.

Sam tilted his head to the side and hooked a finger under his Craig-Bond Quantum of Solace black leather Prada belt with silver buckle.

…slid them into the neckline of his No Time to Die Craig-Bond blue Brunello Cucinelli Oxford button-down shirt.

I also think this story suffers a little from a misleading blurb. It seems to indicate that this book is about Nico and Sam working together to take down Dr. H and, while that is part of it, it’s an extremely small part. The guys don’t even meet one another until

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50%
of the way through the book; prior to that, they have totally independent storylines. They spend a short time together at the resort in Mexico, then are separated again for most of the book. After meeting, their journeys are connected (with each trying to help the other), but they don’t really come back in contact with each other until almost the
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90%
mark. And that is the point they start taking action to help stop Dr. H once and for all. Just to be clear, Nico is desperate all along to help his friends and is doing whatever he can within his limited means and influence. But the actual “band together and fight the bad guys” doesn’t come along until later. While I really enjoyed the story, I think the blurb sets up expectations for how it will proceed that aren’t met.

Also, I did find myself frustrated that Sam’s concern about all this mostly comes as a way to win Nico back, versus wanting to help these imprisoned kids. After the boys have a relationship stumble, Sam figures if he can help Nico, he will have a better chance for them to get back together. In fact, when a sobbing Nico originally tells Sam the whole story, Sam response is basically “well, not much you can do about it.” In the end, Sam steps up, both financially and with his own actions, even at great risk to himself. But everything he does is something he could have done when Nico first brought it up, and so it just soured me a little that his motivation was so focused on impressing Nico. And last thing, the very ending just didn’t work for me, as it seemed very far fetched, even by the standards of this sort of wish-fulfillment style “take down the bad guys” type of story.

So as I said, I had some small issues here, mostly concerning Sam’s storyline. But at the same time, I just could not put this book down. Nico’s journey is so stellar and he is such a fascinating character that he more than carried the story for me overall and it makes this a book I can definitely recommend. The writing is well done, the story is exciting, and there are some really compelling moments, particularly in the Nico/Warren storyline. I enjoyed this one a lot and will look for more of Wind’s work.
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