Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #332: Crush by Svetlana Chmakova

Some media are better for some stories than others. I'd like to think that's obvious, but the way mass culture obsesses about adapting everything into movies and TV shows makes me think it's either a minority opinion or that a lot of people are just dim.

For example: you can do a strong, mostly silent type in a filmed format (moves, TV, animation), and give him hidden emotional depths by turning his thoughts into a voiceover. But a novel is a much more natural and obvious way to tell that story. Comics, too,  has less obtrusive ways to incorporate narration -- the old thought bubbles, or the more modern narrative captions.

Which brings me to Jorge Ruiz, narration and central character of Svetlana Chamakova's third graphic novel about the kids of Berrybrook Middle School, Crush. (It follows Awkward and Brave). He's the kind of kid who's better at doing than talking, who doesn't entirely understand his own motivations and feelings -- and that's all very normal, since he's all of thirteen.

He's just started crushing hard on Jazmine Duong, a girl in his class -- I don't know exactly why, and Jorge certainly doesn't, like most crushes. That makes him even quieter when he's around her, because he's so tongue-tied hardly any words can even come out.

Worse, she has a boyfriend. And she's the BFF of Olivia, one of Jorge's two long-term best buds. So she's always around, occasionally with that boyfriend.

It gets more complicated -- bullies, Jorge's role as "sheriff" of the school to stop same, preparation for an Athletics Ball thrown by the Athletics Club [1], and several imploding relationships (friendly and proto-romantic) leading to a very nasty group chat with added hacking-fakery sauce. But, as the title promises, this is mostly the story of Jorge's crush on Jazmine, and how it turns into more than that.

Jorge has a steadier moral compass than many of the people in this story, and a better one (as far as I can remember) than the protagonists of the first two books. But he's also a tongue-tied thirteen-year-old mush-head, which is totally endearing.

As before, Chmakova makes books that I think actual middle-schoolers like and find to be reflective of their own lives. But Crush is also great for older people who remember being at the opening curtain of puberty, being totally into someone, and having no clue what to do about that.

[1] Neither of which, in my experience, are Things in American schools. The places that are particularly sports-nutty don't have one club for every jock: each different sport has its own season and structure and teacher-coach and attitude about why their sport is the best possible one. I suspect Chmakova writes Berrybrook as so club-besotted because a) she's not American by birth and 2) she really likes manga, where the club is an overwhelming trope.

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