I was curious about this summer camp mystery for two reasons: as a former kid genius, I loved the idea of a story set among smart kids, and I very much enjoy the work of artist Faith Erin Hicks (Zombies Calling, The War at Ellsmere). The second, at least, was not disappointing.
Perhaps I’d created the wrong impression in my head about Brain Camp, written by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan, but I was let down. The “creating prodigies” aspect of this particular camp was downplayed and ultimately unnecessary to the story — the kids could have been brainwashed for any number of reasons and the story would work the same way. The smarts are only on view when needed as a plot device. Also, I’d seen this particular idea before as an episode of Doctor Who, the one where Anthony Head guest-starred.
There’s something wrong at Camp Fielding. Campers seem to be vomiting up feathers and collapsing. Since Jenna doesn’t achieve enough to satisfy her parents, and Lucas is turning into a baby criminal, their respective parents jump at the chance to send their kids to the camp regardless of the conditions.
The best part of the book is the natural way Jenna and Lucas’ antipathy turns to grudging friendship and then more. (Be warned: in this story, love actually does save the day.) The worst part is the cartoonish threat. It’s obvious early on that something horrific is going on, and I found myself wishing they’d get to it faster.
There’s too much time spent on obvious points and characters that go nowhere — bitchy girl, bully boy — while not explaining bits I was curious about, like just how much the counselors knew and why they went along with poisoning the kids. The more realistic moments — as when Jenna gets her first period while away — are the best part of the book, but they seem to be there in spite of the plot, not to support it. There’s an overall lack of cohesion, leaving me wanting more of the pieces that had nothing to do with the story while not particularly enjoying the predictable main plot.
Stories about summer camp have been popular for years in comics, perhaps to distract kids being sent off or to show those at home what they’re not missing. This is definitely one of the latter, an erratically paced suspense plot that will convince anyone that camp is a bad idea, especially given the way the parents are shown to care more about test scores than their kids. Then again, kids who are miserable and homesick might appreciate seeing a story about how much worse it could be.
I did like the clever way the book’s front flap, which usually contains sell copy, was mostly pictures selected from inside. (You can see what I mean here.) That’s the kind of “about this book” more graphic novels should use. (The publisher provided a review copy.)