MMGM and #IMWAYR: Crunch by Kayla Miller
Happy new year, everyone! Today I'm excited to be recommending the fifth book in the Click series of MG graphic novels, Crunch by Kayla Miller!
There are no spoilers of the previous books in the series in this review!
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To be frank, y'all, I related to this book so much that it was honestly painful at times—like, I knew I was thrilled to see a book about navigating an overflowing to-do list, but the specific mistakes Olive makes were so similar to the ones I am making in my own life that it hurt a little bit. But that's just a testament to the realism and thoughtfulness of this graphic novel, the fifth in Kayla Miller's astoundingly good series, following Click, Camp, Act, and Clash. (There are also two spin-offs that form the Besties duology: Besties: Work It Out, which is amazing, and Besties: Find Their Groove, which I'll discuss soon!)
Let's dive in with the publisher's description:
It’s no secret that Olive loves trying new things. Between taking guitar lessons, making a short film, joining Berry Scouts, and leading the charge on her school’s dress code reform, Olive has her hands full! But she enjoys being busy, so staying on track with her jam-packed schedule should be no problem…right?
As weeks fly by, it gets harder and harder for Olive to find time for her activities, never mind time for herself. Will she be able to accomplish her goals, or will all her sizzle turn to fizzle?
The New York Times bestselling author-illustrator Kayla Miller delivers a vibrant and timely story about the importance of balance, effort, and reaching out for help.
I just flipped back through this book in preparation to write this review, and it is absurdly good—to think I used to be all bent out of shape at this series because of Camp. I was missing out!!
I want to start off by talking about Olive's schedule misadventures, the core issue of this story. I've spent a good long while recently drowning in piles, and piles, and piles of work to do. So if there's anyone who needs to be hearing advice about prioritizing, asking for help, and generally not building one's entire self-esteem out of their ability to accomplish more than a human being actually can, it's me! And Crunch really, truly delivers on that front, packing in some immensely meaningful insights about time management that are delivered in an MG-friendly way. First off, this book does a terrifyingly good job at making Olive's list of things to do look so fun and appealing that it totally makes sense why she's signed up for all of them. I can't lie, I had the totally maladaptive thought, "Olive, don't stop making the short film—it's so cool!" When really, Olive's mental well-being is much more important then her embroilment in a bunch of projects.
Also, Olive's path to MG-appropriate chaos is so realistic, oh my word. Like I've done several times recently, Olive leaves things to the last minute and then endures the miserable slog of staying up late, trying to do a gigantic project in one agonizing sitting. And then, of course, Olive doesn't get enough sleep, which messes with her ability to get things done during the day, perpetuating the cycle. And then it starts to feel like Olive is messing up literally all the things she's involved in, which is literally like the burning fear that underpins my entire being (I'm working on it in therapy, so stay calm, everyone). Olive's extracurriculars even start to get in the way of her friendships, and suddenly collected, outgoing Olive is running off from her friends to go finish tasks, or even worse... I keep saying it, but wow—Kayla Miller clearly knows just how much the supposedly-wonderful "drive to succeed" can demolish a person's mental health and connections with others.
But it's not all pain in this graphic novel! Of course it isn't, because the Click series has always balanced thoughtful writing with tons of good, wholehearted fun. First off, Crunch has some seriously good resolution to Olive's problems, which is rich, and thoughtful, and exactly what the little overachievers of today need to be hearing (and what I need to be hearing...and what a whole lot of people of all ages need to be hearing too).
And also, it does help that, when Olive manages her life and schedule more effectively, the things she's doing become actually...fun! Olive's attempts to make a short film in particular spoke to me—my slightly-younger self actually used to force my brother to be in various truly bizarre home videos that were my attempt to create a multimedia/well-being enterprise as a sixth grader. (To a degree, this blog is a slightly more mature attempt to create something similarly dramatic that other people would want to consume!) So I had way too much fun seeing Olive writing a script, and taking feedback from others about the script, and working with difficult cast members, and even employing techniques like stop-motion. And I especially loved how much work Kayla Miller did to make sure that the film, while super-impressive, was actually doable to shoot for kids—if you look closely at one panel that cuts from a stop-motion scene to a real-world scene, you can see that the furry, beige stop-motion monster has been replaced by a lumpy, beige blanket, which totally tricks you and is actually a super-feasible way for kids to make that work! Seriously, Kayla Miller is quite the overachieving graphic novelist in their own right.
OK, and did I mention that all the characters in this series are still fabulous? Trent and Sawyer are standouts in this particular book—I never expect to connect with boy characters with stereotypically masculine interests, but I love how Miller balances making these characters relatable to many young boys with also ensuring that they go above and beyond some of the admittedly-low expectations we have for boys. Literally, I have to share this line from Trent when he's talking with Olive about the school's dress code reform (did I mention Olive is involved in a lot?):
"Not that it isn't super-insulting to us guys when teachers act like we'll suddenly forget how to read if we see a girl's shoulder..."
Is that not the best line you've ever read in your whole life? And I also need to talk about Natasha next. If you recall, Natasha is the girl who drives Olive absolutely up the wall in Clash. And in Crunch, she's...still herself. Which is so realistic, that she hasn't magically changed into a kindhearted, wonderful kid—she's still a pain in Olive's side, and Olive still has to navigate interactions with her regularly. And speaking of that, there's one teeny-tiny detail that deserves a whole paragraph here. On one page, when something mildly irritating happens to Natasha, you can see Olive trying not to laugh in one of the frames. And I love this detail, because I feel like we always want to teach kids to be perfect, and to never have any bad thoughts about anyone, and to always be the better person. But the thing is, no one's perfect, and it's actually totally natural and human for us to slightly (just slightly) enjoy when the people we can't stand are aggravated! And I deeply appreciate that Kayla Miller isn't here to guilt-trip Olive about this—rather, they allow Olive to feel her feelings, knowing that Olive is clearly far too compassionate of a girl to actually act on them.
A few more stray character details: I love the scene toward the end of the book that involves Beth and Chanda, the main characters of the Besties spin-off duology, as this scene pulls a bunch of delightful details from those books and really makes the stories feel interconnected. (Quick tangent: If you're looking for the perfect reading sequence of the main series and the spin-offs, just follow the release dates—so after the first three books, you would read Clash, then Besties: Work It Out, then Crunch, then Besties: Find Their Groove. I believe that's the canonical order.) And then I can't not mention how freaking amazing Olive is—as always, she is such a delightful kid with passions and compassion and the ability to connect with a wide variety of different classmates and people. And her personality has gotten so developed—especially after Clash, when it became clear that Olive is ever-so-slightly "immature" compared to her fellow sixth graders...and that's OK! And there's also some character development regarding Olive's Aunt Molly that is so exciting, OMG!
I will say, if you've been following my blog for a long time, you might remember that I was a little frustrated with this series around book 2, Camp, because of the character Willow. And Willow has a major presence in this book, which I had mixed feelings about. Most of these feelings are entirely because of my own personal baggage—Willow has pretty severe social anxiety, like I've dealt with for a long time, but for Willow, it ends up becoming a burden on her other friends that makes her difficult to be around. And obviously, I don't like the idea that at any point, my anxiety has ever been a burden on others (even though I don't think it particularly is anymore, at least). So I don't love reading about Willow's struggles, even though they are relatable, especially because I think she's a complex enough character that she deserves to tell her own side of the story—but because of the way this book is structured, we really only see her through the eyes of extroverts, especially Olive. I still don't totally love how all this plays out, but to be clear—it is not even remotely a reason to skip this truly delightful series! It's just something I do think is worth noting.
One last thing, and then I'll be done! As always, Kayla Miller's art is clear and easy to parse, yet also energetic and colorful, making for a fun and immersive reading experience. And I especially love the dream sequences that this book and some of its predecessors have included—seeing Olive's hopes and fears brought to life visually is a ton of fun and also helps readers connect with her character.
OK, I've said a lot about this book! And what I hope I've made clear is that Crunch fills an important void in books that discuss the increased pressures on young, smart, and hardworking kids to sacrifice their mental health in the name of "achievement." And it's truly amazing that Crunch is so insightful about this issue while also, from start to finish, being such a fun and rollicking read that MG readers will pick up in an instant, no questions asked—this is not an "issue book" by any means. Kayla Miller's combination of thoughtful writing, delightful plot, and excellent artwork makes Crunch a fantastic addition to this fantastic series, and if you know anyone (even yourself) who could use a reminder that work isn't all there is in this life, then make the time to pick this book up! You won't regret it.
My rating is: Really good!
My rating for the graphic novel-averse is: 3!