Series: Berrybrook Middle School #2
Publication Date: 2017
Jensen dreams of becoming an astronaut for NASA and saving the world. But for now, he’s just trying to survive middle school. His art club friends seem to be drawing away–and they’re kind of mean to him, really–but he’s also not convinced that he’s being bullied. Can he find a place where he belongs?
Brave is a brilliantly beautiful work about surviving middle school, one day at a time. Through the eyes of Jensen, a video game-loving boy who dreams of working for NASA, it explores what it means to try to find a place where you belong, when you do not realize you don’t belong in the first place. Funny, sensitive, and thought-provoking, Brave is the kind of book that will break your heart.
Jensen is bullied at school–by the two school bullies, yes–but also by his so-called friends. Even though he sees art club as his safe space, a place he can work on what he loves, the others in the group are not very kind. They make fun of his obsession with sunspots, “forget” to include him in projects, and exclude him from their lunch table. Still, Jensen does not see himself as a victim. He’s not that kid.
Jensen’s journey of self-discovery is part of what makes this book so special. It focuses, not only on the obvious signs of bullying, like slamming someone into a locker, but also on the little things that add up day by day, making someone feel unwanted and unloved. Jensen transforms from a happy-go-lucky kid, just trying to survive one day of middle school at a time, to a kid who wonders if his life matters at all. Ultimately, however, he realizes that he can help break the cycle of bullying, both by getting help, and by inspiring others to choose kindness.
Brave does not, however, only focus on the actions of children, but also boldly calls out media influences that glorify bullying and mean behavior. In a scene that I interpreted as a reference to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jensen goes to the library to check out a wildly popular book beloved by his friends; the author has been invited for a Skype visit by his school. Jensen is shocked to discover that the book features a main character who is mean to others–a character who is a bully. The book is supposed to be funny, but Jensen, a victim of bullying himself, cannot find the humor. In this moment, I wanted to applaud Svetlana Chmakova for championing books that promote kindness and inclusion, rather than humor at the expense of others.
Brave is a heartfelt depiction of one boy’s quest to survive middle school. It depicts his story with empathy and warmth, inspiring readers to remember that everyone one is important, and that kindness matters. A must-have for any library or middle-school classroom.