Writer/Artist: Svetlana Chmakova
Publisher: Yen Press
Jensen Graham is a little overweight, a little awkward, and a little bit of a dreamer. He aspires to be an astronaut, knows exactly what to do in the event of a zombie apocalypse, and views his life as a not-always-easy video game.
He’s also easily taken advantage of, even by the people he considers as friends. The poor sweet boy is so used to bullying he doesn’t even realise he’s being bullied.
That’s a rather gloomy undertone for a story, don’t you think? That’s the spine of Brave, a children’s graphic novel written and drawn by Svetlana Chmakova.
While its central conflict may sound a little bit dark, this is counterbalanced by the book’s cheery characters and adorable illustrations, which make Brave one of the cutest stories you will ever read.
Chmakova is an award-winning Russian-Canadian manga artist with more than 10 published books. Her best known book is probably Awkward (2015), about teenager Penelope Torres and her quest to fit in at Berrybrook Middle School. The book was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2016, and won the 2017 Rocky Mountain Book Award Gold Medal.
Brave is a follow-up to Awkward: also set in Berrybrook Middle School, it does feature Penelope, but mostly focuses on the shy Jensen. The book shows how Jensen deals with difficult class projects, weird friends, and being roped into a project with the school newspaper, run by the spirited duo of Akilah and Jenny.
The most notable thing about Brave is how CUTE it is. And that’s not just Chamakova’s art style, which is a happy combination of caricature and chibi. Its characters are adorable. Particularly Jensen, who is extremely unsure of himself, yet so hopeful and well-meaning that you can’t help but root for him. The poor boy takes everything SO seriously it’s almost hilarious.
Its larger than life characters, Canadian school setting and occasional fantasies involving video games sometimes made the book feel like a younger version of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: however, the two are little alike.
Most of the characters (and there are a LOT of them, this is a packed middle school after all!) are fleshed out well. The occasionally tense relationship between highly-strung Jenny and the cooler-headed Akilah is fun to read, and one of the most memorable characters is Jorge, a jock of few words who somehow becomes Jenson’s friend.
Another little plus for this book is how diverse its characters are. Apart from Jensen, the book’s two main characters are Akilah and Jenny, who are a Chinese and a Muslim with a headscarf respectively.
While the book is charming, it is not afraid to sometimes get serious. Brave touches a lot on issues faced by kids nowadays – these include fitting in, shaming, and most prominently, bullying.
Most of the issues are depicted honestly and very true to life. While one major issue is resolved in a rather ‘Hollywood’ manner, most of Brave’s plot feels real. Much of what Jensen feels and does, in his attempts to fit in with everything, will definitely strike a chord with many readers.
Brave will definitely delight young readers: those aged 10 to 16 will probably derive the most satisfaction from it. The book, however, definitely has enough charms to hold the attention of much older readers.
This book will soon have a follow-up: continuing the series’s alphabetical theme, it will be called Crush, and focus on Jorge. And if it’s anything like Awkward and Brave, it looks like Chmakova could have an amazing trilogy in her hands!
Brave is available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.