Series: Berrybrook Middle School #3
Publication Date: 2018
Jorge Ruiz has middle school pretty much figured out. He has baseball, his friends, and the athletic club. Between classes, he patrols the halls, standing up for the students being bullied. But when he begins to crush on a girl from drama club, life suddenly gets much more complicated. Everyone’s gossiping about everyone else. Then a scandal rocks the school, and Jorge realizes he might lose all his relationships.
The Berrybrook Middle School graphic novels are some of the best currently being published–and yet I seldom see any buzz about them. They proudly stand in stark contrast to some of the more popular school-centered comics, celebrating kindness and respect,and presenting readers with thoughtful protagonists who, quite simply, try to do the right thing. In the first two books, Svetlana Chmakova focuses on the perils of trying to fit in in middle school and the experience of being bullied, sometimes by people who seemed like friends. In Crush, Chmakova tackles the intricacies of pre-teen romance, as well as the harmful gossip that often surrounds the idea of someone liking someone else. The result is a sensitive exploration of learning how to deal with shifting relationships lead by a protagonist sure to steal readers’ hearts.
One of Chmakova’s great strengths is her ability to create wonderfully lovable protagonists, ones who want to uplift others and to always choose kindness, but ones who also are flawed enough to be believable. In Crush, readers meet Jorge, a middle schooler who is big for his age, but who uses that fact to stand up for the kids being bullied. Jorge is preciously sweet, seeing his strength as a resource to be shared by all. Yet, he is undone simply by the sight of the girl he is crushing on, and he is having trouble navigating his relationships as old friends drift away and less-than-kind boys try to win his approval. Poor Jorge just wishes life had a rule book, just like sports.
The artwork adds to the story Chmakova tells as she specializes in expressions. Each of the characters truly comes to life through both through their facial expressions and their body language. Oftentimes, this allows Chmakova to add a bit of humor into the story as friends tease each other or make jokes. But it also allows poignant moments to stand out as the characters react to with hurt or shame or disbelief, all without saying a world. It often feels like a reader is attending Berrybrook with all their new friends, so alive is Chmakova’s world.
Crush is another stunning addition to the Berrybrook Middle School series, telling an important and a touching story about navigating new relationships, especially in a world where many social interactions now happen online. It never comes across as forced or preachy, but feels like a real depiction of what today’s pre-teens might be going through. I hope we see many more Berrybrook stories from Chmakova in the future.