I am not a big fan of romantic comedies. I find the characters in these types of books or films often engage in manipulative behaviour. The resulting relationships rarely strike me as particularly healthy and leave a lot to be desired. When it comes to my classroom library, I don't tend to read a lot of romantic comedy, which means I have a bit of a blind spot when students make requests. For this reason, I was particularly happy to come across Crush, the lastest book in Svetlana Chmakova's Berrybrook Middle School graphic novel series. It is a breath of fresh air.
Crush tells the story of Jorge Ruiz, the athletic protector of Berrybrook Middle School. Jorge develops a crush on drama student Jazmine and their relationship throughout the book is refreshingly sweet. Jorge takes almost half the book to build up the courage to ask Jazmine out. When he does, the two are awkward at first, slowly getting to know each other. As the book continues, they treat each other with a mutual respect that I wish were present in other novels my students read.
Crush has a lot to say about gender roles. Jorge uses his size to protect his classmates, saying that "strength is a resource. If you have a lot and someone doesn't, you gotta share yours." Notably, he never engages in physical actions beyond giving warnings and looming when he notices bullying, which is quite often (seriously, the teachers at this school should probably look into this).
Contrast this with James, the team captain and quarterback of the football team. James is popular on the team, but it quickly becomes apparent that he does not use his strength in positive ways. He intimidates people, he pressures his friends to "prank" others in inherently disrespectful ways, and generally comes across as controlling. Worse, when he is called out on his actions, he is never contrite and plays it off as a joke. Jorge's friend Garrett is taken in by James's popularity, but Jorge takes a hard line and rejects James's brand of toxic masculinity.
Crush has a lot to say about other important topics too. It discusses bodily autonomy, stalking and harassment from a so-called "nice" guy, cyberbullying, and more. That is a lot for one book, but it doesn't come across as preachy. Instead it is incorporating real and current issues that young people deal with in a relatable way. Crush can offer an excellent opportunity to discuss gender roles and expectations with students and I highly recommend it, and the rest of the Berrybrook series, for upper middle grade and middle school classroom libraries.