MMGM and #IMWAYR: Enemies by Svetlana Chmakova
I'm back!!! I really wish I hadn't dropped off the face of the earth quite aggressively for two months, but alas, here we are. In that time, I've:
- Been so busy that it's really a wonder how I function at all (yet I do!)
- Been addicted to various amazing albums of music (Midnights by Taylor Swift, Inner World Peace by Frankie Cosmos, and Swimming Lessons by Genevieve Stokes)
- Done my usual therapy routine (hooray for achingly slow self-improvement!)
- Played several shockingly gorgeous mobile games I've played before (Monument Valley, Monument Valley 2, and Assemble with Care) and one I haven't (Florence)
- Listened to three tracks from the Monument Valley 2 soundtrack on loop ("Interwoven Stories," "Child," and "Power of Two")
- Laughed really hard on some video calls with friends
- Pondered my future intermittently and with great trepidation (my trepidation is greater than your trepidation, so take that)
- Felt like a weird cross between an 8-year-old who giggles randomly and a 105-year-old who's seen too much in this life
- Watched Black Panther and its brand-new sequel with my dad and brother (OMG—the sequel is fantastic!)
- Watched the new Disney movie Strange World with my dad (the representation is great, and everything else is...not so great)
- And did really important website maintenance (by which I mean, besparkled it in a few places) (✨✨)
So as you can see, it's been quite the time! I apologize for just completely ditching this whole community—y'all really do mean the world to me, and I definitely thought about you while I was gone, but I just couldn't quite muster up the energy to get back into the reading-and-blogging rhythm. But now I'm trying to get back on track, one book at a time, and we're going to start off by reviewing a graphic novel I read all the way back in September but didn't review: Enemies by Svetlana Chmakova!
Please note: This book is a sequel, but there are no spoilers of previous books in the series in my review!
|Add it on Goodreads or preview the illustrations
All right, y'all. It's time to stay up absurdly late saying ALL THE THINGS about this graphic novel!!! Because here's the thing. This book isn't perfect, and I do have some thoughts on why. But also, this book is a Svetlana Chmakova book, and just like its predecessors Awkward, Brave, Crush, and spin-off Diary, this book has heart, it has humor, and it's got some serious wisdom. And even though I do have to critique it, I will also protect it and Chmakova with my life, and somehow, in this review, I'll find a way to share my critiques while also managing to convince you that you HAVE to read this series!
Here's the publisher's description of Enemies:
Felicity’s sure she’s going to do something big. Exactly what is still a mystery, but she’ll figure it out. Her sister, Letty, teases Felicity that she never finishes stuff, but that’s just because Letty is so perfect. Still, life is good with plenty of friends—drawing with the art club and playing games with her buddies keep her busy. But when she decides to join a contest to show Letty that she can get things done, Felicity begins to wonder if friends becoming enemies is easier than she thought. Are they really enemies, though…? What does it even mean to be enemies? And...who is it that she needs the most on her side...?
Let's dive in. As I was re-reading this story for my review, having dragged myself through quite the messy couple of months, this story's primary theme really resonated with me in a new way. Some of this is clear above, but let me fill in some gaps. Felicity is an artist—and a talented one too. She has ideas, she's motivated—to any adult, she's a kid with some serious drive. But to Felicity herself (and maybe her sister)? She's a mess. You see, Felicity's not the best at getting things finished. She comes up with an idea, goes to execute it, gets stuck (don't we all?), and doesn't totally know how to proceed (friendly reminder that she's literally a middle schooler). I will say, I definitely sense that Chmakova put a lot of herself, and maybe even her own struggles writing this book, into Felicity—I know this story was delayed by about a year from its originally announced publication date, and considering how much heart and thought has gone into this plot line, it makes sense that Chmakova might be drawing from strong emotions of her own. And Felicity's got some strong emotions. Can she even compare to her successful snarky science whiz of a sister, Letty? Is doing art even a viable career, when her grandmother so enjoys to tell her otherwise? And perhaps that most pervasive and painful of questions: Is she a failure?
As someone attempting this week to finish writing an essay in just about the messiest way humanly possible, Felicity's struggles and resulting insecurities really hit home for me upon re-reading. And her strategy to resolve her problem—get embroiled in an even bigger project to prove to people (let's be real, herself) that she can actually do things—is pretty darn reminiscent of my own affinity for just piling on the pressure so I can achieve things and desperately try to boost my own self-esteem. (Yeah, the more I think about this story, the more I'm like, "Chmakova is reaching into my soul.") The wonderful thing is, Chmakova's actually got some solutions to this quandary—she presents them in a snappy, MG-accessible way, and yet the wisdom underlying them just might resonate with readers of any age, as it certainly did with me.
And Chmakova brings all kinds of other delights into this story as well, which is as jam-packed with goings-on and peppy, confident kid spirit as any of her other graphic novels. Chmakova has a knack for quietly packing in diversity and representation into her stories, and there's so much of that here that I want to squee with delight. There is a gentle, discreet acknowledgement of the truly painful ways in which Felicity and her sister Letty will already face so much hate from the world, just because of their race—I love how Chmakova works this in so that it doesn't take over the story and leaves room for joy, yet is also likely a big factor in Felicity's doubts about her own abilities. But the diversity doesn't stop there. We have Mx. Edi, our beloved sprightly glass-half-full school library tech with they/them pronouns. We have a wonderful moment where Felicity, visiting a classmate's home, gently corrects her friend Tess that the dish being served is gimbap, which is Korean, rather than sushi, which is Japanese. We have characters with vitiligo and characters in wheelchairs. And we have a whole crowd of middle-school gamers that is so beautifully diverse, when the gaming world so often isn't, that it warms my heart.
Another thing I love about this book? The middle-school drama. Oh my, does Chmakova have it down pat. She draws from Felicity's adventures and misadventures in her big project, which is attempting to create a business with her friend Tess as part of a competition, to bring up broader issues of the nightmare that can be group work. (Feel free to tag yourself in the comments about who you are in team projects—I'm the person who does all the work myself because I have diagnosed OCD and trust issues, and I know I'll do the work correctly! Definitely maladaptive, I know—I'm working on it.) We've got some delightful new characters like Alex, who I'll leave for you to discover. And as with any good MG graphic novel, we've also got some good old Middle School Crushes™—oh my word, y'all.
And one more thing before critiques: as always, Chmakova approaches this book with a manga-esque art style that is equal parts energizing and serene. And she also brings her keen sense for how kids think and talk, as well as her strong sense of humor, to all of the characters and their dialogue. This book really sparkles with MG energy—we love to see it, y'all.
Sigh...now we have arrived at critiques. I'm going to be gentle! I think to some degree, this book could use a better uniting thread for its many plot lines—basically, if there was a single-word title that summed this all up better than "enemies," that would probably be helpful.
I did also struggle with the actual project Felicity and Tess are working on. I think the actual contest they enter isn't well-defined—it's presented as a contest to create a business (presumably for profit) that creates some kind of good in the world. And...I don't mean to be That Guy™ (yes, the ™s are out to play today), but I think that the goals of profit and benefit for the world are a little bit diametrically opposed, and that kind of needed examination. (Especially since some of the past contest entries presumably had no way of making profit at all, so it felt like the contest needed some more rigid rules.)
Relatedly, I found Felicity and Tess's relationship to be a bit clunky. Part of why is that I honestly found Tess kind of annoying—she's kind of an airhead at times, and some of the messages about Felicity realizing her value to the team felt a little hollow, because even I couldn't fully see her value at the end. That said, I also think Felicity did some things to Tess that were really pretty bad, and then did not give an appropriate apology.
One last critique—you might be wondering who the boy on the cover is, standing with Felicity under the word "Enemies" in giant green letters. Well, that's Joseph, and as Felicity puts it in the story, their friendship status is "complicated." I had trouble with this aspect of the story because the characters' conflict didn't entirely feel believable—even though I actually kind of relate to Joseph, I also felt like he had blown the issue out of proportion. And in general, I felt like his character could have used more development, because I didn't feel terribly attached to him overall.
So those are my critiques! All of that said, as I'm reviewing this book, I'm realizing just how much I really do love it. Svetlana Chmakova has a knack for writing MG-accessible stories filled with sweetness, impactful themes, and plenty of zany Kidventures™ (last one, I promise!) for readers to enjoy! And even though Enemies isn't perfect, it is still a worthy addition to this awe-inspiring series that I've been keeping up with for so long (let me be clear, even though I'm months late in reviewing this book, I did actually read it the literal week it came out, back in September).
And my big takeaway from this book is this: if Felicity can cut herself some slack for being behind, and getting overwhelmed, and still figuring out just how she wants to accomplish all the big dreams she sets her mind to, then maybe I can cut myself some slack for my blogging break, or the many other things in my life I see as "failures." And maybe Svetlana Chmakova can cut herself some slack too, since I cannot fathom the life of a graphic novelist is ever easy. She's making it work, and I know I'm so grateful to have her as a force in the wacky, wonderful world of graphic novels!
(And on that note—woohoo!!! I still remember how to write a book review after all this time! I'll be back next week, so even if I drop off the face of the earth again...I'm doing it!)
My rating is: Pretty good!
My rating for the graphic novel-averse is: 1!
(A reminder, as always, that these ratings are unrelated to the quality of the book itself—in this case, it's mostly because the art is definitely energetic, and those less accustomed to graphic novels might get a little bit lost in that. But this rating is by no means a criticism!)