This year’s goal was to count every book I read (why a lot of picture book reviews) and to see if I can get to 500 books because of it. Due to the fact some books I could not write reviews for them, they did not make it here, but I am almost at 500. And one reason is Brave book two in the Berrybrook Middle School series by Svetlana Chmakova. While a stand-alone title, I recommend reading Awkward first.
Brave is the trials of getting through middle school through the eyes of one less-than-cool-geeky-art-loving-kid named Jensen. Good kid, not great at math, little naïve, has an interesting way to surviving the levels of middle school pitfalls. In the end, he shows what being brave really means.
The main themes are bullying and friendship. This is shown realistically: the bullies know when and how to get away with being bullies, the “cool kids” are snobby and Jensen’s “friends” might not be that. There is a side story about the school dress code. Also, the school newspaper is going to be a friend to Jensen in ways he never imagined.
However, my biggest issue is the school newspaper staff. They are doing research on bullying and no one really mentions that the editor of the paper is a bully herself in many ways: she orders Jensen to read the paperwork handed to him, keeps forgetting to schedule time for an interview and never explains what is going on, so when Jensen finally gets the interview and does not want to be on camera she gets annoyed and pushes him out of the office.
But overall, I did like this book. I like the bright colors and the not-so-realistic illustrations. They are real enough, so you do not feel they are “cartoonish” but also are no so real that they are as dark as the story could get. The other part that is good is the fact there are diverse characters and it is not a big deal. Chmakova focuses on Jensen, therefore, “side bullies” are not center stage. However, there are some mentioned to move the story along/to show characteristics of characters.
The adult reading this could relate to at least one person, if not more than one. Kids aged 10 to 14 will enjoy a story about themselves.