The restaurant business is tough. It’s even tougher when you decide to open your restaurant in a city where the residents are monsters. In Brave Chef Brianna, we get to see that adventure. Brianna Jakobsson is fresh out of culinary school. Her father has a food empire and has given the family a challenge: open their own restaurants. The most successful of the bunch gets to use the family name and inherits the empire. The only catch is that they can’t be in the same city. Seeing as Monster City has the lowest rents, Brianna figures it is her only option. With the help of her new friends Suzan and Kevin, she gets started slinging burgers and fries to the locals.

Turns out that human cooking and food stuffs–things like flour and sugar–are banned in Monster City, so they have to keep Brianna’s methods a secret. As Brianna’s restaurant grows more successful, she catches the attention of local chef Madame Cron, who doesn’t like that humans are settling in monster city, and Brianna’s brother Hans, who thinks his food truck is a nice loophole to the one-city-per-sibling rule. Through it all, Brianna and her friends stay true to the vision of the restaurant and feed the locals delicious food.

Although on the surface Sam Sykes’ story may seem simple, it also tackles the issues of gentrification and struggles with anxiety. It’s easy to consider these as topics for adults, but they are issues that kids see and experience as well. What I most appreciated about this book is how it presented these issues as part of the larger story while still keeping everything fun and accessible for a younger reader.

Brianna’s decision to settle in Monster City because it is affordable parallels similar migrations to cities across the U.S., an influx of young outsiders taking advantage of the low cost of living, in turn making it no longer affordable for the residents who have been there for generations. Madame Cron’s concern that Brianna’s success will invite a similar gentrification to Monster City is a valid viewpoint. Her worry is that humans will ignore the violent and traumatizing history between humans and monsters, but expect to be welcomed with open arms in a city monsters had to build and develop for themselves. It makes her a more dynamic antagonist than if she was simply threatened by Brianna’s popularity.

As someone who lives with anxiety, the way Brianna’s anxiety and self-doubt is manifested struck close to home. Her anxiety and self-doubt are drawn like a physical entity that appears to feed Brianna self-doubt, and it grows and grows the more stressed she becomes. It is one of the most accurate representations I have seen in any media. As a society we are becoming more aware of how these sort of issues affect people of all ages, so seeing this sort of representation in a kids comic is great. Kids who see their own anxiety issues represented in Brianna may take some comfort knowing they aren’t alone, and take extra joy in her successes because of it. I know I internally whooped when Brianna took a hard look at her reflection and managed to pull herself out of an impending downward spiral.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I was disappointed to see it had a short-lived run. I think there was potential for a couple more volumes to further develop Brianna and her friends as they continue to build the business and become part of the Monster City landscape, and to find out who gets her father’s cooking empire in the end. The variety of monsters in the city is fun and in another book may be too scary for kids. But in Selina Espiritu’s style the monsters look relatable and accessible, and their diversity reflects how a population came together to create their own community. A cute addition to the book are recipes inspired by Brianna’s restaurant. While I haven’t had the chance to try them yet, I look forward to making some Brazilian cheese waffle breakfast sandwiches in the near future.

Brave Chef Brianna
by Sam Sykes
Art by Selina Espiritu
ISBN: 9781684150502
Kaboom!, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12

  • Adriana

    Past Reviewer

    Adriana graduated with a BFA in writing, literature and publishing from Emerson College, and an MLS from the University of Maryland. She’s been working as a library and research professional in the Washington, D.C. area ever since. Being a sucker for mini-comics makes the Small Press Expo one of her favorite times of year. For two years she served as a volunteer at the Library of Congress where she processed the SPX Mini-Comics Collection. Her tattoo collection isn’t growing as quickly as she’d like, but it’s an enjoyable task nonetheless. Like many people who grew up in the ‘90s, she loves Sailor Moon, and aspires to be a powerful magical girl. Or a professional wrestler. Either one would be great. In the mean time, she chronicles her attempts to get through her Netflix queue at To the Queue!

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