Saturday, April 13, 2024

Absolute Zeros: Camp Launchpad

Smith, Greg, Tanner, Michael, and Gomez, Gabrielle (illus.)
Absolute Zeros: Camp Launchpad 
March 5, 2024 by Little, Brown Ink
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus  

Camp Launchpad has been around for a while, but it is a space camp that has fallen on hard times. Becca's Uncle Fred runs it, and she helps, but the staff is fairly small, including pioneering astronaut Rhea Hae and Gage McGuff, a former military man. Campers include Mark, whose father is the vice president of the US and a former camper, who drops him off and hopes that his son will have a good time, even though he would rather be with his posh friends and the much fancier Star-X camp, run by billionair Xander Santos. Pete is quiet and not as wealthy as the other campers, since he is there on scholarship and has a large family. Val Herman is at the camp while her mother, an astronaut, is in space. She's SUPER excited to be at camp and lets everyone know it. The campers are assigned to pods, and the A-Zero pod is the three campers we've just met. For some reason, the other campers are not particularly nice to them, especially Pete. There are tons of camp activities, like building rockets and assessing their performance, constructing boxes for egg drops, although swimming is off the table because the swampy, unkempt pool has an alligator in it! When the campers go to a museum, Val knocks over a display, and overhears Fred talking to Xander Santos. The two make a bet; if Camp Launchpad can win the Space Race competition, Santos will give Fred ten million dollars, but if they lose, Santos will bulldoze the camp. This gives Val the underdog spirit that she needs, which is reinforced when Mark's friends from Star-X are snotty to them as well. Back at camp, the three "Absolutel Zeros" hone their skills in coding, building, troubleshooting, and working with antigravity machines, and eventually get chosen to represent the camp in the Space Race. Will their desire to save the camp make them triumphant? 
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about what might go on at a space camp, and it was interesting to see the children having to identify reasons why their rockets don't launch well and work through problems with coding. I'm sure many summer camps have fallen on hard times, so that was a completely realistic plot arc. The three main characters are different enough that they each add another layer to the story. The competition is interesting, and there is a twist at the end that was not something I expected. In the last year or so, there have been a lot more different kids of graphic novels, and this will appeal to readers who want something a bit different. 
Weaknesses: There's never any reason stated why the other campers at Camp Launchpad are mean to the pod A-Zero campers, nor do Mark's friends from school have any reason to be so nasty to the vice president's son. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who can't get enough novels about space camps, like Lackey's Further Than the Moon, Giles' Epic Ellisons: Cosmos Camp, and Gardner's graphic novel Long Distance. This also reminded me a bit of Miller's Out There, a graphic novel which deals more with a road trip and hunting space aliens. 
Ms. Yingling

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