Written by Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan; Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
:01 Second, 2010
Summer camp has always been a bit of a jumping off point into adolescence. Spending time away from parents with a bunch of kids your own age can be both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
That sense of terrifying exhilaration is very evident in Brain Camp, the story of two kids from distinctly different backgrounds who both wind up at Camp Fielding abruptly. Once there, they discover that disturbing events are unfolding around them, and if they’re not careful, they might just become the next victims.
The main characters – Lucas, the street-smart, troublemaker who comes from a broken home, shows the typical qualities of a youth growing up in a severely dysfunctional home – ditching school, stealing cars, running with a bad crowd, etc. Jenna, on the other hand, is one of those kids who are basically normal, but come from an overachieving family. Both are seen as “failures” by their respective parents, so it comes as a big surprise when a representative from Camp Fielding appears on their respective doorsteps late one night. The next day, both Lucas and Jenna are unceremoniously dropped off at summer camp with little warning.
After a brief meeting between the two, they go their separate ways, fully believing the other to be a complete waste of space, only to come together again, joined by the fact that the camp is really strange.
Classes in advanced mathematics and chemistry are taught on a daily basis, with the expectation that the kids will just pick it up as they go along. All the campers are expected to run a maze daily, allegedly the fastest getting special treatment at meal times, and the councilors acting suspicious. Even the kids that seem to be complete failures at everything are turning it around overnight!
One night, Lucas can’t sleep. Hearing a noise, he ducks underneath his bed to hide, only to see the councilors enter the cabin with syringes, and then locking the doors to prevent anyone from getting in (or out).
Combined with Jenna’s discoveries, the two grow closer together, trying to get to the bottom of the strange goings on at the camp, ultimately facing a serious, and scary threat.
The story’s pace works well for the most part, and the scares and questions all seem to fall into the right places. Even Lucas and Jenna’s relationship grows organically, while their interactions with the other characters are believable.
Where I have problems is with the authority figures throughout the book. All of those people show little to no concern over their actions (except for one instance where the director has to make an emergency decision that is rather graphic) and how they affect the campers. I understand that from the kid’s viewpoint it seems as though the councilors don’t seem to really care, ultimately they feel like automatons going through the motions, or even enjoying what they’re doing.
The other issue I had with the authority figures was with the parents themselves. The kids both think that their parents were in on the conspiracy the entire time, but I don’t know any parent, no matter how dysfunctional, that would be willing to subject their kids to such a treatment.
“Yes, Mister and Misses So and So, what we aim to do is implant a creepy bird creature in little Suzie’s head. She’ll become super smart, but there’s a slight possibility it could kill her.” “Well, shoot! Let’s sign the little dumpling up!”
It just doesn’t wash.
Nathan: For the most part, Brain Camp is an enjoyable, scary run through the fears of puberty and growing up (the whole ‘wet dream’ bit didn’t even register with me until the third read through’), and on those aspects it hits everything it aims at splendidly. However, I had problems enough with the portrayal of the adults to the point it became a distraction from the book. Overall, I think it’s target audience will enjoy it greatly, but outside of that audience, readers are either going to be too scared, or put off by the lack of empathy from the adult characters.
Jack: I liked the idea of a camp where you can become really smart, and the fact that they had to run through the maze every day. What I didn’t like was that the parents went along with the plan to put the kids in the camp.