Thursday, January 9, 2014


What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Chiggers (Atheneum, 2008).

Five and a half years ago, when Chiggers was published, I remembered thinking that Hope Larson is a talented and wonderful comic artist - I enjoyed her more recent adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time - but also thinking that I probably would not be interested in stories about middle school girls at summer camp, and passed on it. I ran across a copy recently and gave it a try. What happened in between was that I had a daughter pass through middle school, during which time I experienced what can be said without much controversy: children lose their freaking minds in middle school. Having survived that, I was more interested in what Larson might have to say about the social interaction of these little space aliens.

The setting is a camp in North Carolina which Abby has attended for years. Her best camp buddy is now a junior counselor and doesn't have time to hang out anymore, and circumstances lead her to hang out with a late arrival, Shasta - like the mountain, not the cola - who has rubbed everybody else the wrong way with her boasts. They end up being stuck together, and hopefully Abby can make something good come of things.

I really like the way that Larson is able to capture that oddball time when all your elementary school-age summer camp buddies suddenly start striking into different factions, and people start inflating their reputations with fibs and tall tales. Battle lines get drawn over irrelevant things. I'd forgotten how this was until my daughter lived through it. Somehow, Larson makes it both readable and fascinating.

It's not without its flaws, although I'll concede more of them may have come from my fumbling reading than anything the author did. An early sequence sees one high-maintenance girl in the cabin unwittingly aggravating Abby before going home early, and I had to reread this sequence twice to follow everybody's body language. Subsequent encounters with a will o'the wisp, or ball lightning, or something, also seemed a little unclear. But overall, this was a very charming and very honest book with some wonderful characters. I shouldn't have put off reading it as long as I did! Recommended.

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