Thursday, June 22, 2023

When Giants Burn and Camp Scare

Vrabel, Beth. Controlled Burn
June 13, 2023 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In a small, rural town of Rabbit, Utah, near Fishlake National Forest, Gerty and Hayes both have very difficult lives. After a famiky tragedy, Gerty's parents have embraced life "off the grid", demanded that she call them Alex and Jennifer, and have cut off ties with her grandmother, Nanny Pat. Gerty still talks to Nanny Pat, and the two share an interest in aviation and are building a plane. Hayes' mother was a firefighter in California, but became injured, addicted to pain mediciation, and spent time in jail for grand larceny. The two children meet in a support group at school, and Gerty soon brings Hayes into her plan to build an airplane. She also wants to travel to see Pando, a very old and massive tree with impressive roots, and join the same aviation watch organization that Nanny Pat had been in. Both children are fighting with their families for various reasons, and when Alex and Jennifer decide to move away, Gerty feels she needs to try out her plane and go to see Pando. She takes Hayes with her, but the flight is not successful, and soon the two of them are trying to survive not only a plane crash, but an encroaching fire. Will the two be able to survive, and to help put their families back together? 
Strengths: I loved Nanny Pat, and the details about Hayes' mother fighting fires was really interesting. I have a dedicated e reader, so why shouldn't Hayes' mother have her own Pulaski? There are lots of good information about forests, aviation, and forest fires set against Gerty and Hayes' problems. The pair are rather unlikely friends, but take to each other well. There's plenty of action and adventure after they try to fly the plane, and some decent survival skills demonstrated as well. It cannot be said enough that we all should have backpacks with protein bars, water, and complete first aid kits before going farther afield than the grocery store. 
Weaknesses: For some reason, I thought this was set during World War II. Gerty's name, perhaps, or the plane on the cover? It's set in the modern day. Also, while I am all for moving on past tragedies by ignoring them, parents have to be responsive to their children's reaction to loss, and Gerty's parents didn't take Gerty's emotions into consideration. They definitely fall into the category of dysfunctional, grieving middle grade parents, although Vrabel gets points for not just having them cower in bed. 
What I Really Think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed the friend relationship in this author's Caleb and Kit, liked the aviation aspects of Bowling's Across the Desert, or want a different look at forest fires Downing's Controlled Burn. Add this to the growing list of middle grade books about FIRE

Dawson, Delilah. Camp Scare
August 2, 2022 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by the Ohio E Book Project
Parker is an awkward middle schooler who is very excited about topics that others aren't. She's the student who always has her hand waving in the air, and is an easy target for someone like Cassandra. Parker is thrilled to be invited to work on a poetry assignment with this popular girl at her posh house, and is bursting with tons of good ideas. The two settle in to work, then go to the kitchen for gourmet ice cream. Little does Parker know that Cassandra's friend KJ is going to get her journla out of her back pack and put her poetry and private thoughts on the internet. This, of course, goes viral and her classmates taunt her ceaselessly. In recompense, the school gives her a scholarship to go to Camp Care, a long time camp where children are protected from bullying. Parker arrives with a new wardrobe and hopes to reinvent herself, only to find that everyone has to wear the same boring uniform. That's not the worst of it: Cassandra is a camper there and has been coming for years, so is good friends with everyone in the Possum cabin. She tells the other girls that Parker is trouble, and after their possessions go missing and wind up in Parker's dresser, they believe everything Cassandra tells them. Even the counselors are mean, telling Parker that she won't ever make friends if she doesn't join in and always has a sour look on her face. When Parker meets Jennmy, she's glad to have a friend, but there is something not quite right about her new acquaintance. There is also a hazy and problematic past to the camp, dating to something that happened in 1988 and resulted in the camp being condemned and rebuilt. There are plenty of traditional camp activities for Parker to do; horse riding, fishing, archery, and foraging in the woods, but as the girls do these activities, many of them are gravely injured. Who is Jenny, really, and is there some connection between her and these horrible things? Will Parker be able to save the other campers from terrible fates and prove that she is not the one behind the accidents?
Strengths: Like Dawson's Mine, this has a solid premise, an atmospheric setting, and realistic interactions between tween girls. The details of summer camp are great, although I can't say I ever got to go foraging in the woods and told about wild mushrooms. Our conselours stuck with poison ivy, and there was a lot more badminton and canoeing. Jenny's portrayal is great, and there are just enough 1980s tells to make me realise that she wasn't all she claimed to be. Fairly gruesome things happen to the campers, but they aren't fatal. I don't want to spoil the ending, but it had some satisfying coincidences. 
Weaknesses: It was difficult to believe that a camp specifically marketed as being against bullying would have let Parker be treated the way she was. But then, it makes for a better story. 
What I really think: Summer camp is the perfect setting for a great horror novel, but other than Berk and Mitchell's Camp Murderface and some older R.L. Stine novels, I can't think of too many titles. I wished that this had been scarier and less involved with the bullying because the cover is fantastic. 

I'm still not convinced it's a good idea to encourage tweens that they are enough just the way they are. I am fortunate that my mother taught me to reign myself in, because I was a very odd child. It would have been impossible to keep friends if I had embraced my true self! The more other people know about you, the more ammunition they have to hurt you. 

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