I am in love with this book… probably more than Jorge loves Jazmine. But seriously, it’s so dang good! If you’ve never read anything by Svetlana Chmakova before you’re seriously missing out. Crush is fun, funny, and absolutely fabulous. It brings back the growing pains of being in middle school, navigating the complex world of social relationships, and the confusion of finding your place in the world. If you read only one graphic novel this year, this should be it.
Author: Svetlana Chmakova
Publisher: Yen Press
Publication Date: October 30, 2018
Genre: Fiction, YA, Graphic Novel, Middle Grade Fiction
Themes: Friendship, First Love, Bullying, School
My Rating: 5/ 5
Following the overwhelming success of AWKWARD and BRAVE, Svetlana Chmakova’s award winning Berrybrook Middle School series continues with its next installment – CRUSH!
Jorge seems to have it all together. He’s big enough that nobody really messes with him, but he’s also a genuinely sweet guy with a solid, reliable group of friends. The only time he ever really feels off his game is when he crosses paths with a certain girl… But when the group dynamic among the boys starts to shift, will Jorge be able to balance what his friends expect of him versus what he actually wants?
When I was still working in elementary schools Awkward and Brave were two of the books I went to battle over including in a start-up graphic novel collection. I stood my ground against the PTA because 1) graphic novels are ‘real books’, 2) the visual nature of comics levels the playing field when it comes to lexiles and reading levels, and 3) graphic mediums are known to convey more information regarding interpersonal dynamics and internalized feelings as they allow for readers to imagine themselves in the character’s shoes.
So, when I saw the Galley for Crush I simply had to get behind one of my favourite graphic novelists. Be warned, I am massively biased in favour of Chmakova’s work. And truth be told, the latest addition did not disappoint. The style remained consistent with her previous work, both visually and thematically, and once again Chmakova’s tackled some serious issues without delivering any overt lectures. Themes on the docket this go round include: first loves, peer pressure, group dynamics, bullying, and bodily autonomy. Whew! That’s no small chunk of change when it’s all packed into a middle grade graphic novel.
I loved the diversity in the characters, and appreciated how the inclusive elements never felt token or forced. The representation of the school populous was anything by homogenous and presented an honest reflection of the average public school. There were cliques, distinct personality types, and it even played on the typical clubs and groups that can be found in almost any school. There’s the drama kids, the athletes, the cheer leaders, the nerds, and on and on. But what I loved most about these representations is that even though there are characters that play to stereotypes, that those characters that represent toxic masculinity and abusive behaviours are thoroughly condemned for their actions. So too are the bullies, the gossips, and the mean girls. No excuses are made, no free passes are given, and the real-word consequences for being horrible are detailed in full. Hello, cleverly disguised teaching moments!
And just as there are examples of poor behaviour and what not to do, there are some shining examples of how to be kind and conscientious human being. For this alone, I love Jorge! He’s a jock without being a jerk, doesn’t feel the need to participate in petty drama, and despite what his peers are doing he doesn’t cave to the pressure of commenting on or physically invading other’s bodily autonomy. He is supportive, respectful, and absolutely adorable. Svetlana Chmakova, thank you thank you thank you for putting forward an absolutely crush-worthy knight in shining armour. Thank you for setting the bar high when it comes to how people should be treated.
I appreciated that Jorge was painfully shy and unsure of how to navigate his first crush. He was human and relatable, yet at the same time Jorge is also confident in his individuality and unwavering in his treatment of others. I loved his patience, his willingness to forgive, and his refusal to stand idly by why others are bullied. That’s right my friends, while Crush might be about Jorge’s first love it also hands out some (not so) subtle tactics on how to stand up to d-bags of all ages.
With that being said though, the kids really taken centre stage in this book, as the few adult characters serve only to advance the plot rather than deliver lectures or provide guidance. The kids themselves navigate the grounds of what’s right and wrong, and that alone keeps it more relatable for to a middle grade audience.
As far as the artwork goes, I absolutely loved it. The line work is clean, the characters unique and easily distinguished – abstracted enough to be relatable yet detailed enough to convey meaning, and the panel arrangement easily readable. The facial expressions and body language effectively convey the differences in personalities and internal emotions, and speak volumes in a way that text never could. The panel arrangement is clean and not to cluttered, in fact it follows the left to right, top to bottom pattern of a standard books with only a few full page panels or exceptions to the rule. The result is that this text is an easy introduction to graphic novels for those new to the medium. The colours are used for maximum impact but aren’t overwhelming. They’re subtle, soft, and don’t detract from the visual language employed. Additionally, enough action takes place in the gutter to keep the imagination firing on all pistons, but not so much as to leave the reader to their own devices – especially when it comes to the emotional implications of decisions and behaviours.
Would I recommend this book? Let’s put it this way, I’ve already bought a copy and sent it to my old school! Great for parents, kids, and anyone in-between. This is a smash hit, home-run, middle grade must read.
Many thanks to Yen Press, Svetlana Chmakova, and NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.