cover image The Bravest Thing

The Bravest Thing

Donna Jo Napoli. Dutton Books, $14.99 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-525-45397-0

Laurel, the thoughtful 10-year-old heroine of this ambitious novel, loves all her pets-snakes, rabbits, fish-and she takes good care of them, but they suffer untimely deaths. When a pet rabbit at last thrives, Laurel gets permission to mate her and cherishes dreams of raising the newborns. She successfully breeds the rabbit, but when the litter is born, the mother refuses to nurse and the babies die. Although Laurel is devastated, she mates the rabbit again, encouraged by the veterinarian. Again the mother won't nurse her offspring. The vet warns that there's very little hope of survival, but Laurel feeds them herself, and one of the six newborns pulls through. Napoli (Shark Shock; The Magic Circle) avoids easy optimism, also handing Laurel such tough breaks as a tendency toward scoliosis and an aunt's cancer. Despite the multitude of hard knocks, this is not a problem novel-as in life, the difficulties come mixed with occasions for happiness. Characters and situations are drawn so carefully and roundly that Laurel's extraordinary determination seems realistic. Napoli ends the novel without averting Laurel's scoliosis or curing the aunt, rather, she inspires the reader to believe that obstacles, no matter how daunting, can be made smaller through courage. Ages 8-11. (Oct.)