Saturday, November 2, 2019

MMGM (11/4/2019): Diary by Svetlana Chmakova

I'm back (again)! I hope to have some blog posts in the next few weeks about both graphic novels and regular prose novels. Today, I have a review of a (sort-of) graphic novel: Diary by Svetlana Chmakova.

          If this book looks familiar, that's because it is the fourth book in the Berrybrook Middle School series (the first three books of which are regular graphic novels Awkward, Brave, and Crush, with reviews linked). Diary is a bit more unconventional: it features a number of activities (such as, shockingly enough, diary pages) and three short stories. (Interestingly, the copy I have has a sticker on the front mentioning the three short stories, but none of the cover images have that same sticker.) Before I talk about the short stories, I do want to mention some of the book's other features:
  • Several activity pages (a self-profile at the beginning and pages after the first and third short stories)
  • An 18-month undated calendar with illustrations of the characters in the series
  • Four pages of basic drawing tips and a number of blank pages for people to practice their own drawings (some of the spaces have drawing prompts) (also, two pages of tips are at the end, after the blank pages)
  • Lined pages for use as a diary after the second short story
  • Four pages to write down/draw your favorite people
  • A super-adorable sticker sheet at the end of the book with characters from the series
  • An elastic band to hold the book shut (at least on my copy)
          I love all of the fun features in this book, but the main reason I bought it was to read the short stories. Two of the three short stories are drawn in graphic-novel format, just like the other books, while one is drawn to look like the diary entries of Jensen, a character in the series. The first short story (drawn like a graphic novel) is called "Time Capsule," and it centers around Penelope (or Peppi for short) and Jaime (both from Awkward) as they assemble a time capsule with help from the other clubs at Berrybrook Middle School. Even though Peppi and Jaime aren't dating, Jaime panics when it seems that Peppi has a crush on another person. The second short story, "The Captain's Log," is a series of journal entries by Jensen as he fantasizes about exploring other worlds with his classmates. The third short story, "New Girl," chronicles the experience of a certain character who moved away in Awkward and is now living in a spooky small town with a small school and super-cruel classmates.
          "Time Capsule" is an okay short story. I appreciate that it deals with the ways in which opposite-sex friendships (at least for straight kids) can be hard to navigate, and I also appreciated that a background character in the books was revealed to use they/them pronouns (that character even got a sticker on the sticker sheet). I also liked getting to see the ways in which Peppi and Jaime's friendship has developed after Awkward. On the other hand, the storyline is clich├ęd, I didn't like that the resolution involved Jaime overhearing something rather than just asking Peppi (that's a bad lesson for kids), and there wasn't enough time in the story for much to actually happen. "The Captain's Log" was better; it was a short but fun look into the mind of a beloved character (Jensen). It did feel even shorter than "Time Capsule," though, so be warned. "New Girl" was my favorite story, as I absolutely love the character from Awkward who acts as its protagonist. The story did a pretty good job of setting up the main character's struggles in her new home in a short amount of time, as well as showing how hard it can be for new students to make friends when students have formed into cliques. I do feel like the character deserved a few more pages for her previous struggles to be explored, but it wasn't a major issue.
          The best part of the Berrybrook Middle School series is the depth and realism with which middle school and character's lives and feelings are depicted and explored. Unfortunately, it does seem that such depth and realism is better suited to full-length graphic novels than to short stories. Regardless, for readers who are as big of fans of Awkward, Brave, and Crush as I am (they are some of my favorite books of all time, and I recommend them without any objections), Diary's fun activities, adorable stickers (I can't get over them), and resolution to some previous loose ends in the series make it worth a purchase!