Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it. – Rabindranath Tagore
Chris O’Guinn’s Fearless is the story of fifteen-year-old Justin, a boy whose one and only aim is to be the unseen. He has decided that friends are not worth the risk because he is un-friendable and therefore, he would rather not try at all than to go through the time, trouble, and eventual heartache of the inevitable rejection. This story is told in Justin’s words and chronicles a brief few months of his freshman year of high school—through the awkward growing pains, through the pain of being on the outside looking in, through the pain of being seen as a freak.
Justin is not athletic nor is he a brainiac; in fact, the only distinguishing characteristic Justin can boast is that he’s the gawkiest and most uncoordinated boy in 9th grade. He lives with a single mother who’s struggling just to put food on their table, while his father tries to be the great weekend dad who sometimes withholds child support to spite his ex-wife. In short, Justin is not only confronting the start of those awkward and sometimes torturous high school years, but he’s also dealing with the fear of almost everything, including the fact that he’s gay.
Enter Liam, resident stoner and perpetual truant, the guy Justin knows only by his well-earned and much deserved reputation as the kind of guy who spells trouble. Justin has absolutely no desire to know Liam beyond all the conclusions he’s jumped to about the sort of guy Liam is. But Liam has other plans. Liam is a force of nature who sees something in Justin worth knowing: he is outspoken and he is fearless and he is cheeky as can be, and above all else, he disproves beyond a shadow of a doubt all of Justin’s misperceptions. Liam is the embodiment of the Plato adage “everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle,” and it’s not long before he and Justin are nearly inseparable. Liam becomes the best friend who teaches Justin that courage is not about being fearless but about facing your fears head on; he teaches Justin that life is about taking chances and about standing strong when the first instinct has always been to run away.
Justin learns through swimming the meaning of courage and leadership. He learns about camaraderie and, perhaps most important of all, he learns to own his sexuality in spite of his fear of rejection at best and a beating at worst. Coming out for Justin, while not easy, pales in comparison to some of the other challenges he will face in his life, as he learns about unrequited love but he also learns about unconditional friendship and about taking chances, about winning and about losing, not only in the pool but in ways far more significant, ways that will force a boy to grow up all too quickly but will also teach him a lesson in what it means to be truly courageous.
Let me tell you, I love to cry just about as much as I love a root canal and shoes that pinch my feet and people who drive slow in front of me…and maybe also an ice pick to the temple, which is to say, not that much.
But secretly—don’t tell anyone—I also have a huge amount of respect for books that don’t manufacture happy endings (even as I try to convince myself up to the bitter end that the author is just one deus ex machina away from saving my mascara), which is why I both loved Fearless and wished bad juju on Chris O’Guinn at the same time. Yes, I got a raging case of the uglies and needed many tissues to combat it.
The author takes a very purposeful aim at the heartstrings and tear ducts in this coming-of-age novel, but he also infuses the story with humor and heart and a sweet friendship to balance it all out. If you’re fearless in the face of uncontrollable weeping, I would definitely recommend giving Fearless a good seeing to, especially if you’re a fan of Young Adult fiction.
Though Mr. O’Guinn might not forgive me the use of the word, I have to say his book is pretty awesome.
Sometimes that’s the only word that fits.
Reviewed by: Lisa