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Brave Face: A Memoir

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Brave Face:  A Memoir Book Poster Image
Gripping look at boy's struggle with depression, coming out.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

How depression works, what it does to those who suffer from it. How mainstream society's attitudes toward and portrayals of homosexuality affect people who are attracted to the same sex; why positive representations in media are so important, including specific events and pop culture that informed the author's idea of what being gay means. A content advisory at the beginning offers websites, phone numbers, and other resources for help with depression, suicide, coming out, etc. How you'd die if you overdosed on Tylenol, and how such an overdose is treated medically.

Positive Messages

You are good enough, and deserve to love and be loved, just being who you really are. It's OK to hurt, and it's OK to ask for help. It gets better, but it takes a long time, a lot of work, and it isn't a straight line; sometimes it gets worse again. You shouldn't regret the past, because it's what has made the present what it is. If you hate the present, remember it will become the past soon enough. If we only see stereotype portrayals, they become the norm and create hurtful and harmful ideas of what we can be or should be.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hutchinson freely admits that he was not very likeable as a teen, although he also clearly illustrates how depression worked in his mind to fuel bad decisions and suicidal thoughts. Fear of being gay worked to fuel anger and resentment, too. He stole a magazine once, skipped a lot of classes, harmed himself by cutting and punching hard surfaces, sabotaged a lot of positive influences, started smoking, and was determined that he could handle all his problems on his own. At the same time, he was also a responsible employee, wasn't interested in drinking or partying, and once he got to college he excelled academically. He mentions that in later years as an adult he had phases of drinking and doing drugs, but eventually matured into someone who could ask for help when he needed it, developed coping mechanisms that worked for his depression, and is now able to do what he loves for a living.

Violence

A detailed but not gory description of attempted suicide and the medical and psychiatric treatment received for it. Frequent mention of self-harm like cutting arms and legs, carving a word into his chest, and punching walls or filing cabinets; blood and bruising are mentioned but not described. One detailed description of cutting himself. A sexual assault describes kissing, rubbing a penis a few times on a leg still wearing pants and ejaculating on the pants. Teens talk briefly about wanting to kill themselves. Mention that in elementary school he was beaten with a sandal by the vice principal, he scraped his arm with an eraser until it bled and jumped from high surfaces hoping to break his ankle so he wouldn't have to go to school.

Sex

Frank descriptions of kissing and making out with members of both sexes. Mentions that the first time having sex brought up a lot of questions about blow jobs, being a top or bottom, rimming, and biting. He didn't use condoms because he didn't think he was worth it and because he was kind of hoping to die soon anyway. Describes seeing a picture of a naked man's crotch in a sex-education book. Mention of masturbation and uncontrollable erections as a young teen. A religious speaker calls people who have oral sex "sperm sucking" or "vaginal fluid sucking" sinners. Mention of downloading pornography, looking at Playgirl magazine, and fearing a spontaneous orgasm while making out. Getting a reach-around mentioned. Speculates that his mother imagines him having orgies in his bedroom.

Language

"D--k," "f--king," "prick," "s--t," "ass" (body part), "bulls--tting," "fag," faggot," homo," "asshole," "crap," whores," "sluts," "jizz," "bone" (verb), "boner," "steaming hot dump," "couch hump," and an illustration of the middle-finger gesture.

Consumerism

Food and beverage outlets, musical acts and albums, authors, books, retail outlets where he worked, and other pop culture products establish character, location, and time. Effexor and Paxil mentioned as drugs that did not work for him.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Low-to-moderate drinking in high school mentioned. Later mention of periods of a "party" lifestyle as an adult drinking and doing drugs. A couple of settings in bars. Sipping a beer he doesn't want while his date has three or four beers and later passes out. Imagines someone pictures him "doing coke off a go-go boy's ass." As a teen the author felt that pot, ecstasy, and acid were OK recreational drugs, but cocaine was going too far. Overdose of Tylenol with detailed and harrowing descriptions of its effect, how you would die a slow and painful death from it, and the gross medications and side effects he had to take for it. Took up smoking as a way to meet someone, knowing it was stupid and disgusting. One boy he briefly dated smoked.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Brave Face: A Memoir is YA author Shaun David Hutchinson's frank look back on his struggles with coming out as gay and with depression during his teen years. It includes a harrowing and detailed description of his attempted suicide, and honest descriptions of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and a sexual assault. Some things are difficult to read, but none of it is glorified; it's meant to help people with similar struggles see that it's OK to ask for help, and to know that although it does get better, getting better takes a long time, a lot of work, and that the road to recovery isn't a straight line. The introduction offers a content warning and resources, websites, and phone numbers for help with depression, suicide, coming out, and more. There are descriptions of both same-sex and opposite-sex kissing and making out. Having sex isn't directly narrated, but body parts, positions, and specific acts are mentioned. Besides frank words for body parts like "d--k," other strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "fag," "faggot," and "homo." Brave Face teaches readers a lot about how depression works on your mind and why positive representations that avoid stereotypes are so important in mainstream media. It'll inspire a lot of empathy for people who are hurting because they feel like they can't be themselves, like they're worthless, and like no one understands them or what they're going through.

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What's the story?

In BRAVE FACE: A MEMOIR, author Shaun David Hutchinson looks back on his struggles as a teen with depression and with accepting himself as a gay man. Hutchinson didn't want to be like the stereotypical gay men he'd seen and heard talked about all his life, and couldn't even if he did. That just wasn't him. Plus, laws and policies enacted by his government reinforced the idea that gay people were best hidden away, doomed to a depraved lifestyle and early death from AIDS. That's more than enough for anyone to struggle with, but Hutchinson also had a mind that kept showing him that he would never fit in because he was ugly and didn't deserve to love or be loved by anyone. Suicide became the most logical course. It was an ending, but what he couldn't know then was that it was also a beginning.

Is it any good?

This honest, eye-opening, and moving memoir is for anyone who is or loves someone who doesn't fit in, doesn't feel loved, isn't sure who they are, needs help, wants to help; in short, anyone. Brave Face: A Memoir tells one particular teen's story in a frank, no-holds-barred way that deftly balances the way he sees things now, 20 years later, with the only way he was capable of seeing things in the moment, as things happened. Readers who are trying to cope with the same or similar problems will find an oasis of understanding here and be encouraged to envision a future where they belong. Readers who are having an easier time will still find a lot that's easy to relate to. They'll get a profound understanding of what depression is and does, as well as what's it's like when you don't like, and are even pretty scared of, what you think you're becoming.

A lot of the issues Hutchinson deals with are difficult to think and talk about, let alone experience. But it's a good chance to try to start talking about how we see ourselves, what we think the future holds, what our value is as human beings, what we hope for, what our inner voice tells us, when we're OK, and when we need help. Ultimately the messages are hopeful: that it's OK to hurt, it's OK to ask for help, and that although it doesn't happen quickly or easily, it does get better. Strong language, frank sexuality, and difficult themes of self-harm and suicide make it best for teens and up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Hutchinson's suicide attempt in Brave Face. Do you know anyone who's thought about it, talked about it, or tried it? Have you? What happened? Please check the front of the book if you need help, for yourself or someone you care about.

  • How does his depression affect the way the author thinks about himself and his life? What did you learn about depression from reading Brave Face? Did it change the way you see or think about people who are clinically depressed?

  • How do you think Hutchinson's life would have been different if he'd seen more non-stereotyped LGBTQ people represented in books, movies, music, etc.? Why are positive, inclusive representations important?

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