Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Chmakova has done it again! We are back in the universe of Awkward, with a different focus this time. It’s Jensen’s turn to tell his story, and it focuses mainly on bullying. He is sort of peripherally part of the Art Club crew, but isn’t really included on stuff like their preparations for a school Art Fair, with graphic novel authors he’s never heard of. He is intrigued by the newspaper crew and tries to join them but mostly gets used, at least by Jenny who’s in charge. Jenny’s best friend is Akilah who is actually much kinder and gentler than Jenny. The two of them are doing a research project for which they want to interview Jensen, who gamely agrees without actually reading the preparation handout they give him. So when he shows up for the on-camera interview and discovers it’s about people who have been bullied, he has the very natural reaction of “but that’s not me.” As he continues through his day, he thinks of the checklist Jenny and Akilah have given him, and comes to realize that almost everyone, from his two actual bullies (who turn out to be bullied themselves) to Tessa in Art Club, puts him down in one way or another. It’s actually the teacher he hates the most, his math teacher, who turns out to be helping him by requiring him to go to after-school tutoring (where the bullying continues, but at least he’s no longer failing math). The other bright spot in his day, aside from Art Club, turns out to be English, where he’s doing a group project with a big jock-looking kid named Jorge who ends up being really nice.
My one complaint was that I didn’t really like Jensen as a person. He lives in his head and loves video games, imagining himself to be a hero but really doing very little to achieve hero status. He really half-heartedly does nearly everything – he wants to be an astronaut but can’t get into math even though he knows it’s important; he wants to be accepted by the other art club kids but can’t follow-through to read the graphic novels whose authors are coming to the art fair. You can sort of see him wishing he had more motivation, but it was frustrating to watch him. In the end, though, he does get some help with the bullying and it starts a school-wide conversation that changes the culture of the school.
The third book in the series is Crush and apparently it focuses on Jorge. Can’t wait to read it!