(Grades 8-12) Jenna and Lucas are losers- at least that’s what their parents think. So when they send them to Camp Fielding (“America’s best new educational summer camp!”) for the summer, the hope is that they’ll return ready to go to Yale, or at least pass the SAT with flying colors. But something amiss is going on at Camp Fielding. Why are some campers failing miserably at the strange, higher-level-thinking activities while others are succeeding beyond expectations? Why are those who are doing well acting a little too much like zombies- really smart zombies? And why are some campers disappearing in the middle of the night, after they try the odd, pink-colored ice cream at dinner? These and more questions abound as Jenna and Lucas form a reluctant friendship to figure out what’s going on. The odds are stacked against them, however, as the pace picks up and they are cornered at every turn by the grim, brooding camp counselor and a mounting army of the smarter campers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this smartly-written, fast-paced thriller of a story that is probably best for fans of Goosebumps who want something more mature. One of the things I truly reveled in is that this story knows what it is- a cheesy, fun mystery where weird things are expected to happen and do- and it focuses on doing that well without trying to be more than that. Of course, in the run of doing so, there is a nice, understated satire of the labels and expectations that we place on kids and teens and how they can take these definitions to heart. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Jenna, Lucas, and their friend Dwayne bond over sharing the labels their parents and other adults in their lives have given them: “Actually, I’m secretly ‘bright’ but for some reason I’m a real ‘underachiever.'”
Faith Erin Hicks’ illustrations help the story along tremendously, particularly when it comes to the weird parts. One scene in particular will have you slamming the book shut at first glance and then opening it back up slowly with one eye squinting because you can’t resist the urge to see what happens. And that cover… how could you not pick up a book with such a creepily intriguing cover (The eyes! They’re pure EVIL!)?
Overall, Brain Camp is a wonderful, short read that leaves out the boring bits and gives it’s readers the stuff they came for. Plus, with summer just around the corner, it’s the perfect mental warm up for one of the best parts about this season- late night ghost stories around the campfire. Come check it out and enjoy… but don’t blame me if you can’t sleep afterwards.