Brave by Svetlana Chmakova
📚 BOOK REVIEW 📚
Author / Illustrator: Svetlana Chmakova
Publisher: JY Edition
Islamic Content: None, Muslim Characters
Concerns: bullying, possible crush/boyfriend implied (re: side character on a couple of pages)
Jensen has a huge imagination, and that's what gets him through his day in Berrybrook Middle School as he navigates his school life. Between bullying, being forgettable, struggling with math and establishing friendships he finds himself in the journal room helping Jenny, Akilah and Filipe doing simple tasks. Jensen doesn't mind because he avoids his bullies and doesn't have to spend his lunch break eating alone. When he is asked about his life dealing with bullies by the journalists, he denies he is being bullied and having mean-spirited friends. However, as Jensen and others try to find a way to lift an unfair suspension of a student, cautiously, he grows more aware of the different bullying behaviors geared towards him.
With the recent discussions recently sparked on my IG stories about the repetitive portrayals of Muslims that seem to be recycled in kids books, this was the perfect book to be in the queue for review. This actually does the exact opposite of that: Akilah is a Muslim hijabi who is an aspiring journalist, trying to use her small role to bring attention and awareness to the 'wrongs' in the school that seem to be accepted as school culture. Her faith or her dress code aren't even mentioned once. She is a supporting character who is strong, smart, calm, gentle and helps Jensen realize his truth. This is exactly the kind of Muslim representation we need to see in kids literature, where the Muslim isn't always portrayed to be surviving war or being a victim of discrimination or Islamophobia. There is also Ms. Rashad, the hijabi gym teacher who wins a push-up competition against Mr. Aaranson; refreshing, again.
This graphic novel was an easy read and had plenty diverse characters in the story. Not only were there character of different cultural backgrounds and faiths, there was also the math wiz, Aron, who was in crutches. The story is narrated by Jensen and his perspective. I thought Jensen's denial about him being a victim of bullying was an interesting but a realistic take. His gaming imagination was his escape that kept him distracted from letting the behaviors of others seep into his core. After Jenny and Akilah pose some triggering questions, that is he becomes more attentive to the bullying he has been enduring from different angles. When everything is out in the open changes begin to happen, school programs and workshops are implemented as well as changes within the characters themselves.
*note the concern*