Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

Hey, buddy, is everything okay?

Darlings, brace yourself for the start of very short posts by me (fortunately, Yash, Nafiza, and Jane are less abbreviated), because the summer is about to start in earnest and I am GONE. For work. Sans books, other than policy manuals etc etc etc. Don’t expect anything in the way of a decent-length review from me for the next two-ish months 🙂

But! There are way too many wonderful books to just not post about them. End result: severely truncated (possibly still sweet?) reviews about fantastic summer reads.*

Today: Brave by Svetlana Chmakova.

Stats: middle grade graphic novel; second in a series (preceded by Awkward and followed by Crush, both of which I have yet to read — a situation that had better be remedied before October, y’all); published 2017; contemporary setting in an unnamed country, which I am going to claim as Canada because Chmakova is Russian-Canadian and the text doesn’t say it isn’t. (Canada, I mean.)

The series in which Brave comes second appears to be named for the first in the series, Awkward, but might better be described as the Berrybrook Middle School books. So far as I can tell, each book is a standalone, with a new protagonist in each story; and at least in Brave, the protagonists of the other books appear as supporting (and sympathetic) characters. All of whom attend Berrybrook Middle School, naturally.

So! Brave. Protagonist is Jensen, a rather sweet, quiet boy who likes comics and video games. He doesn’t really have a lot of friends, though he thinks highly of the art club. Here’s the official blurb:

In his daydreams, Jensen is the biggest hero that ever was, saving the world and his friends on a daily basis. But his middle school reality is VERY different – math is hard, getting along with friends is hard…Even finding a partner for the class project is a big problem when you always get picked last. And the pressure’s on even more once the school newspaper’s dynamic duo, Jenny and Akilah, draw Jensen into the whirlwind of school news, social experiment projects, and behind-the-scenes club drama. Jensen’s always played the middle school game one level at a time, but suddenly, someone’s cranked up the difficulty setting. Will those daring daydreams of his finally work in his favor, or will he have to find real solutions to his real life problems?

That’s Jensen Graham on the centre of the cover, of course. Jenny is on the left, and Akilah is on the right.

(Side note: anyone else reminded of Courage Wolf on leveling up?)

The story takes a leisurely approach. We see Jensen on typical school days, with ordinary, realistically ambiguous interactions with classmates. Ambiguous in that aside from a couple overt bullies, everyone else is just going about their own business, to varying degrees oblivious of how their choices and goals bolster or frustrate others.

About half way through I was convinced that this was purely a slice of life graphic novel. Jensen is, though not a dramatic hero, the sort of person who is pleasant to be around. He’s easy to relax contentedly with.

And then the plot picked up. I put the book down for a minute. I think anyone who has been bullied at school will find Jensen’s feelings — friendless and turning his pain inward in self-blame — a little too familiar for comfort. Chmekova depicts Jensen’s slide from “okay” to “mostly managing” to downright miserable with immense subtlety — Jensen doesn’t realize what’s going on for ages, and the reader is pulled into his perspective — and with great empathy.

Though the everyday drama of classes, student protests, clubs, and students with wuthority — good-intentioned or ill– we see Jensen gain perspective, courage, and the rock-solid, gut-based certainty that comes when you know you have a friend who cares about you. And maybe more than one friend, at that.

Reasons to read this book!

  • Jensen is fun! He really is someone you’d want to hang around with. His dream? Be an astronaut at NASA, and warn everybody about the perils of sunspots. In the meantime, his goal is to pass math. He loves drawing and carries around a zombie survival guide, in case of emergency.
  • Jenny and Akilah, the power duo! Best friends, and terrifyingly effective team. They fight all the time, which is almost how they say “I love you, bestie” to each other.

[Jenny, Akilah, and Felipe] run the school newspaper and a popular vlog. NO ONE wants to mess with them.

These three are like a comic book justice power team. Jenny is the captain… and Akihal is the right-hand commander… while Felipe is like the rogue pilot who crash-lands a lot but always completes his mission.

  • If you wanted a story where the popular kids are also the super-smart nerds AND the kids who look out for the other kids? This is it.
  • Jorge Ruiz: intimidating-looking athlete who doesn’t say much but… is really nice? Yup! If you’re looking for a story with a big strong sports type who belongs to the athlete club AND looks to spread his aegis over the other kids, this is it. I’m pretty excited for Jorge being the protagonist of Crush.

He VOLUNTEERED to be in a group with me… NO ONE does that!

…He looks like he could stop an entire zombie apocalypse. BY HIMSELF.

  • Felicity! Artist, fangirl, costumer, and one. tough. cookie. Who is also genuinely kind.
  • Good teachers (and a librarian). The adults are minor characters, but it’s awfully nice to see supportive adults who are committed to their students’ best interests in the background, too.
  • It’s funny. Cute. Absorbing: you pick the book up to look at one page and before you know it, you’ve read a dozen. Heh.

C’mon, Jensen!! It’s not too late to fix this!

*So. This post ended up being much longer than anticipated — which meant I got one post written instead of the two or three that I was hoping for and kind of relying on. So… sorry? But also, read this book! And happy holidays.