“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova. Yen Press, 2017. 9780316363174. 248pp. Publisher’s Rating: A All Ages.

I’ve been a fan of Chmakova’s comics since reading Dramacon, a series about a young comics creator which I highly recommend. This is a sequel of sorts to (or at least a book set in the same universe as) Awkard, set at the same school. Some of the characters from that book may be in this one, too. (Hard for me to remember. I’m getting old.)

Jensen wants to become an astronaut and save the world, which is good because he’s on the lookout for danger everywhere. He seems most obsessed with sunspots and the coming zombie apocalypse, though he admits Berrybrook Middle School is also dangerous. He has friends in Art Club, he’s being bullied by two boys, and he’s desperate to impress the kids who run the school newspapers so they’ll publish his article on sunspots. Except… well, if you asked Jensen, he wouldn’t say he’s being bullied. His Art Club friends don’t treat him very well. When he does get to help out at the newspaper, he’s assigned busywork. The one bright spot seems to be Jorge, a jock in Jensen’s English class who volunteers to work on a presentation with him (and sticks up for him a bit).

It’s a bit sad and wonderful and not too after school special-ly. Jensen starts to see that the way he’s being treated isn’t right, stands up for himself, and looks for friends and a place to belong. He’s a good dude. A lot of the kids who’ve been a little nasty to him are good kids, too. (Not the bullies, not really, but you may have some sympathy for one of them by the end of the story.)

Chmakova’s manga-inspired art and storytelling has always wowed me. She uses the best aspects of manga storytelling to bring her characters to life, using their expressions to give them a rich emotional life. Both Awkward and Brave are subtly but beautifully colored, too. If you put them in front of upper elementary and middle school readers they’ll jump off your shelves.

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