Courage: A Story of Love and Friendship
By: Disko Praphanchith
Publication Date: May 2013
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Courage is a story about two friends, Jenny Park and Daniel Fischer, that follows the pair from high school through many years fraught with joy and tears. The debut novel of author Disko Praphanchith, the story will leave you speechless as you read the last page, and the characters will stay in your heart long after you’ve put the book on the shelf.
In the Prologue, we meet Jenny, a battered woman. She wants a cigarette, but knows that being caught smoking by her husband Tom might set him off. The frightened woman has already received one beating and is fearful that another may be coming. What kind of life was she living?
Jenny works the night shift at the Red Moon Diner, a place where the customers are a bit seedy, the tips are almost non-existent, and the powerful smell from the restaurant follows the young woman home each morning. If she doesn’t shower right away, Tom will come after her for the offending odor. When a new customer starts to regularly come in and sit at one of Jenny’s tables, leaving huge tips for her, the other staff starts referring to the man as Jenny’s boyfriend. Jenny shrugs it off but the reader is left to wonder if this man might be somebody from Jenny’s past. As this third chapter ends, Jenny is fearful of getting yet another beating from Tom. Then as the next chapter begins, the reader is suddenly thrust back to Jenny’s high school career and will soon learn what brought the young woman to such a horrific place.
Jenny was sitting in an IB (International Baccalaureate) course, one of many IB courses taken by only the smartest kids at school. Jenny didn't like her IB class, and the pressures it put on her, but as a Korean-American, she had been stereotyped as “one of those smart kids.” The truth was, however, that Jenny didn’t fit the stereotyped image at all. Bright, yes, but she had problems with her church and questioned its motives in depth. She also didn’t see the merits of her family’s accepted cultural norms, fought with her parents, and wasn’t liked by many of her Korean-American peers. In short, Jenny felt very alone. That all changed one day when she met Daniel Fischer, a brilliant student who, like Jenny, felt utterly alone. “It hurts,” he confided to her during one of their many long walks, "because being intelligent means you have to always contrast yourself with others around you."
Jenny and Daniel become good friends and help each other get through the tumultuous high school years. We follow them next to college, where Daniel’s desire to help those less fortunate really takes hold. Many philosophical discussions with others, such as his new girlfriend Emma, unfold. Some, such as his talks with Bill Bukowski, a former writing partner, will have life altering outcomes. It is through these talks, as well as Jenny’s inner struggles, that the two are brought together, as well as torn apart.
By the time Daniel has become a successful writer, Jenny has found herself in a loveless marriage with a wife beater. She has long since lost her true identity and is merely going through the motions of a meaningless life. Are Daniel and Jenny truly meant for each other or has their inability to express their love driven them apart permanently? Will they ever re-connect or is it too late? These are questions that will keep the reader going through this rather voluminous novel.
Courage frequently switches between different times in the characters lives, with early chapters going between Jenny’s dismal married life and her and Daniel’s teen years, while later chapters swap between the college years and 2019, which is where the story ends. Unlike many novels where these changes add little more than confusion, Praphanchith handles these time changes quite well. In addition, rather than wondering why or how a character acted the way they did, we can see quickly just what in that person’s past precipitated the action. The author’s style is clear, succinct, and engaging, keeping the story flowing at a satisfactory pace. While the novel could have been edited down a bit, the time commitment to read Courage will be well rewarded.
Many people, reading that Jenny is in an abusive marriage, may fear that this book is about an abused woman. While it’s true that there are several scenes of Tom’s cruelty to Jenny, this is instead a tale about two extremely close friends and their inner struggles to find peace. While Jenny realizes that she "...was just fading away from the world," this is a story about the triumphant of the human spirit and the need to have one very special friend in the world who will do anything to help you.
Quill says: A story of love and friendship that will haunt you long after you’ve closed the book for the last time.