Almost right from the beginning, you know there’s something wrong at Camp Fielding: two kids racing for a geocache suddenly start convulsing and coughing up feathers. It certainly doesn’t look like a “summer of learning and fun” as promised on the T-shirt.
Jenna’s parents think Camp Fielding sounds like a great idea, though. Their friend’s daughter, Stella, attended the camp last year (according to the director) and is now headed to Yale at age fourteen. It sounds like the perfect solution to Jenna’s lack of motivation. Another teen, Lucas, is out stealing cars—his mom also gets a visit from Camp Fielding’s director and agrees that it would be a great solution for Lucas.
Jenna and Lucas are soon introduced to the other campers, who fill some of your typical teenage stereotypes: the mean girl, the bully, the scrawny nerd … but there are some others who seem to be amazingly bright. How they got that way is a mystery, because it doesn’t really seem like the camp counselors do any actual teaching. Some of the girls wake up with mysterious boils on their foreheads. By that evening, they’ve gained a sudden interest in literature and mathematics and are no longer picking on Jenna. Oh, and they caw.
Brain Camp, written by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks, is a creepy summer-camp tale about brainwashing—and something even more sinister.
The book is rated for ages 11 and up, and I probably wouldn’t recommend going much younger than that because of some of the disturbing images. There are also two scenes involving puberty that younger kids may not get—they’re not spelled out explicitly but older readers will recognize them.
I enjoyed the book but I don’t especially care for the “girl and boy hate each other at first but then fall in love” plot line. To be fair, Kim and Klavan work the love story into the larger plot of Camp Fielding; I’m just tired of the idea that finding somebody you hate at first is the best way to find your true love. Hicks’ artwork is excellent—lots of little details, a few gross-out moments and some spine-tingling moments. The big reveal near the end is a little less scary than the hints in the shadows throughout the book, but overall I liked the illustrations.
Disclosure: First Second Books provided a review copy of this book.