Berrybrook Middle School by Svetlana Chmakova | Series Review
In my opinion, Svetlana Chmakova’s Berrybrook Middle School series is the best set of graphic novels for young readers out there.
It’s an obvious idea — if you want to tell stories about a varied group of kids, a school is a convenient, relevant setting and linking device — but every time a new volume comes out, I’m amazed by the in-depth portrait we get of these kids and their social and emotional challenges. These books are beautifully done and rich in feelings and struggles in an authentic way. The illustrations are expressive and approachable, with a welcoming soft pastel palette.
The series started in 2015 with Awkward, in which Peppi Torres tries to make up for a casual cruelty while avoiding the mean kids.
“Chmakova does an excellent job at portraying how squirmish introverts can be at a time when passing notes, talking to the teacher, making new friends, and apologizing for things you’ve done can be a nerve-wracking situation.”
Brave came out in 2017, about the bullied Jensen. We see cameos from some of the characters from the previous book, but it stands alone, as you don’t need to know who they are. They’re just fun bonuses for readers of the whole series, in a pattern that continues.
“While there are many stories about middle school right now, this one has a unique spin, because Jensen doesn’t even realize his reality and when he does, that’s when the real heartache begins…. It really captures so many realities of middle school life, as if Chmakova just left there herself.”
Crush (2018) features the kind of character that most people have preconceptions about. Jorge is a big guy, so people think he’s scary. He tries to use his power for good, but he gets tongue-tied when his friends start coupling up and he develops a crush.
The story has many parts to it, without being overly complicated…. Chmakova really hits all the nails on the head. She created a captivating story with warm and likeable characters (and some characters you really don’t want to like). While the situations are exaggerated for the sake of fiction, it works!
“The book attempts to live up to its name, opening with a school year’s worth of calendar pages, undated, to keep track of events on a month-to-month basis. There are a handful of instructional pages, and a lot of blanks, including 40 ruled pages and two months’ worth of “sketch a day” half-pages, some with prompts.”
Enemies is the newest in the series. Released last fall (2022), it returns to the Art Club setting of Awkward, but this time, it’s Felicity’s story. She’s an artist, but she has a problem finishing things, and her overachieving younger sister causes her to feel inferior. She gets involved in an Entrepreneur Club pitch contest, and while working with her teammate to find a great business idea, ponders the relationships she has with friends and ex-friends. There’s a lot going on here, but the way it spills out feels real and relatable, and the lessons about being kind to yourself and others are excellent.
Sixth and seventh books are planned for the future, but no titles have been announced yet.
Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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