Friday, June 15, 2018

Brave

I have been reviewing books that have been nominated for the Excellence in Graphic Literature Award in the Middle Grades category, and the winners will be announced this weekend. Today's book received an Honorable Mention, and it is a sequel to Awkward, which I reviewed last month. This book is also set at Berrybrook Middle School, but it shifts to focus on a new protagonist Jensen, who is also a member of the Art Club. He's a bit oblivious about a lot of things, and gets stuck in his own head a lot.
The irony!

He's failing math class and needs tutoring. He goes through his school day like it's a series of video game levels he has to pass, so he's not so cognizant of the frequent bullying and harassment he faces. Also, he sort of fades into the background so much that he might not be so much anyone's actual friend. He learns a lot about himself over the course of the book, from reflecting, from his friends, and from his teachers, but none of it seems forced or artificial like an afterschool special might.

What I love about this book are two things: Its characters and situations are vibrant and relatable to me. It has been a long while since I was in junior high (what they called it back then), and there were scenes in this book that really brought me back. There are many life and social issues that readers can take in and think about because they are presented so realistically and dynamically. Also, this book is full of a diverse cast of characters who feel genuine. Second, although this is the second book in a series, it's instantly accessible to new readers. There are passing references to familiar characters and events that past readers would get, but none of them are essential to the plot so new readers don't feel like they are missing something. I think that is a tough trick to pull off, and I am impressed by the overall quality of this book. It's fantastic, and I feel it should be a super-popular choice for middle school students.

This book's creator Svetlana Chmakova is a celebrated comics artist who has won a slew of awards and accolades for her works. Along with this Berry brook Middle School series, she also has published Dramacon, set at a comics convention and the supernatural themed series Nightschool. For those interested in her work and career, this article is a good one to check out.

The reviews I have read of this book have been universally glowing. Kirin at the Islamic School Librarian wrote that it offered a "good message, that is more self empowering than preachy." Matthew Burbridge opined, "I consider BRAVE one of this year’s must-reads for anybody who has a difficult time understanding the problems and pain that bullying can cause." Esther Keller called the artwork "magnificent" and added that the book "really captures so many realities of middle school life, as if Chmakova just left there herself."

Brave was published by Yen Press, and they offer a preview here. The next installment in the series, called Crush, comes out soon.

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