Every child longs to fit in and feel like they belong. Vera Brosgol was no different. In her new graphic novel, Be Prepared, Brosgol tells an autobiographical story of her experience as the only Russian girl in her suburban American town.
Surrounded by friends who have two parents and live in fancy houses, Vera feels like an outsider. Having immigrated from Russia as a toddler, Vera lives with her single mom and two siblings in a small apartment. When she hears about a Russian summer camp, Vera is convinced that if there is anywhere she will feel understood, this is it. Unfortunately, the camp is not exactly what Vera expected. First, nine year old Vera must share a tent with two fourteen year old girls, both named Sasha, who are already best friends and do not have time or patience to deal with Vera. Next, the only bathroom is a disgusting shack out in the woods. Finally, Russian is the only language that is spoken, which Vera is a little rusty on and keeps messing up. It is a nightmare from the start, and gets worse as Vera keeps trying different ways to fit in before she figures out how to make true friends.
The best part of Be Prepared is how relatable and likable Vera is. Even if you weren’t the only Russian girl in town, you can feel her pain as she is excluded during a sleepover, making up lies to try to fit in. Every child can relate to that feeling of not being enough, of not being cool enough, smart enough, rich enough. Even Vera’s brother, who from her perspective fits in so easily, admits to struggling and being bullied at camp. Brosgol perfectly captures that tween angst of trying to find your place and understand your family and background.
Brosgol, who won a Caldecott Honor in 2016 for her picture book Leave Me Alone, illustrates with minimal color, but lots of expression. The pictures are mostly black and white, with olive green accents. This helps to really focus on the faces and emotions of the characters, which Brosgol does wonderfully.
Be Prepared is a must have for every library–especially if your patrons love Raina Telgemeier or Victoria Jamieson. Recommended for ages 10-14, every tween will find something that speaks to them in Vera’s story.
by Vera Brosgol
First Second, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14