I absolutely LOVED Brave by Svetlana Chmakova! It lets us revisit Berrybrook Middle School, but this time we get to see the perspective of Jensen, another Art Club member that we only briefly got to see inAwkward. Brave shows a different perspective on bullying that I hadn't seen before. It also graphically shows the effects of bullying to students and victims.
Jensen is a sweet character who wants to grow up to be an astronaut and save the world from sunspots; he is always prepared for a zombie attack and is more than willing to help his friends and fellow students. Jensen refers to middle school as a video game and mentions how the levels get harder and harder as it goes on, including math and the "school monsters;" who Jensen refers to as two boys who constantly call Jensen "fat" and push him into his locker. The reader gets to see him being picked on not just by these bullies, but by the other art club members. Jensen is beautifully oblivious to his bullies and defends them saying that they are just joking with him, even though he doesn't like it.
The math level of Jensen's middle school video game reaches a climax when he starts failing and is told to attend math tutorials where one of his bullies attends as well. He also is asked by the newspaper crew, Akilah and Jenny, to be a part of a "lizard brain" study where the two girls interview students who are being bullied and offer the science behind it. Jensen finally realizes that he is being bullied and becomes depressed. He realizes that he has no real friends and even says that he would be better off being eaten by zombies. While this chapter broke my heart, it was great to see the depression and often suicidal thoughts that are effects of being bullied. I loved that Chmakova wasn't afraid to include this and made them easy to understand by Jensen's expressions and change from being a happy character to a very sad one. Jensen gets the flu and has to miss a few days of school, even when he is feeling at his worst, he says that he would sacrifice himself to testing and helping to find a cure to a zombie flu if it meant saving the world from a virus.
*SPOILERS AHEAD!* When Jensen returns from being sick he gets caught up in a student protest to help another student who was unfairly suspended; Chmakova uses this as a great teachable moment where students are allowed to question the school dress code and whom is allowed to police what students wear. Through this Jensen finally finds his place among his friends, giving him the bravery that he needs to stand up not only to the art club, but to his two bullies. He tells both groups that they are making his life hell and that he wants them to stop picking on him. One bully tries to fight him, but with the help of the newspaper crew, they are caught on film and the bully is suspended.
Jensen very quickly has become one of my favorite characters, and I assume that he will find his way into the heart of readers everywhere. I am proud that this book made it onto the 2018 Maverick Graphic Novel Reading List, where I hope it is found and read by students of all ages, teachers, parents, and administration. Chmakova deserves ALL of the awards for Brave, because she had to demonstrate bravery to be able to touch on these subjects as easily as she has.