Hope Larson tells the story of a girl’s stay at summer camp in Chiggers. Abby has been looking forward to returning and catching up with friends from the previous year. One of her friends promised they’d hang out together all the time, but she’s been made a Camp Assistant, and her duties leave her busier than expected. Another girl goes home early, infected with the bugs of the title. Then there’s Shasta, the new girl. She and Abby have lots of interests in common, but the other girls ostracize her. Abby’s torn between someone she likes and fitting in with the group.
The girls are all growing up at different rates, and Abby’s feeling left out because she’s not worried about whether boys are looking at her or giggling over rock band singers. (Yet older girls enjoy talking with her because she hasn’t yet discovered artifice and pretension.) All of the moments are realistic, with believable dialogue and an ear for how teens sound and feel. The girls’ behavior ranges from tentative outreach to dirty tricks, capturing a wide range of interactions.
Larson’s smoothly flowing style has been compared to “visual poetry”, and that lyrical feel continues here. Very few items (besides the panel borders and the bunk beds) are drawn with straight lines; everything’s wavy, which gives the book a natural feel suitable to the story setting, especially in scenes set outdoors. Her rain storms are palpable.
Larson makes the most of the comic medium by including symbolic panels — girls gossiping together are shown growing thorny vines out of their mouths, for example, or itchy scratching fills a panel to show how annoying the sound is to the listener. It’s beautiful visual thinking that reaches the reader emotionally.
There are a couple of fun extras included naturally in the story: how to play a card game and how to make a friendship bracelet. (You knot colored thread to make a braided band, which you tie around your wrist. You never take it off, until it falls off, and then you get to make a wish. I remember doing this in school, so I was thrilled to be reminded of the details.) Chiggers combines the best of Larson’s previous books — from Gray Horses, discovering friendship in a new place, and from Salamander Dream, growing up in a natural setting. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)