Monday, August 09, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 187 (8/9) -- Brain Camp by Kim, Klavan, & Hicks

This is the second graphic novel co-written by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan -- better known, before this year, as a TV writer (Courage the Cowardly Dog) and a mystery novelist (The Cutting Room), respectively -- within six months, after City of Spies. (Both books came from the same publisher, as well -- usually authors have to set up deals at several houses to get two unrelated books out that quickly.) Both books are also explicitly for younger readers, and both also share some plot elements: a smart, somewhat artistic girl and a rougher, more streetsmart boy meet and then are thrown into a dangerous situation, from which they have to escape using their own wits and knowledge.

Brain Camp is illustrated by Faith Erin (War at Ellsmere) Hicks, in a style with eyes just a hair shy of being manga-large and a careful eye for the grotesqueries and oddities of the story. (And there are plenty of both of those before Brain Camp lets out at the end of the season.)

Jenna Chun is a fourteen-year-old Asian-American girl who isn't quite as overachieving as her doctor parents would like. Lucas Meyer is a budding juvenile delinquent of the same age -- we first see him breaking into a car for a joyride. Both of their parents are approached, late one evening, by representatives of the exclusive and mysterious Camp Fielding, since two slots have just opened (that day) in the camp's summer program. Fielding is completely free, and has a sterling record for turning out ferociously focused and frighteningly smart graduates, so Jenna and Lucas's parents only need a bare minimum of arm-twisting to pack them both off immediately, to arrive at camp the next day.

The camp, of course, is not what it seems, and the other kids very quickly become almost Stepford-ly uninterested in normal teenage hijinks and ideas. Lucas and Jenna at first dislike each other, but are quickly thrown together by dint of seeming to be the only two normal kids in camp. Things quickly escalate, with the other kids ignoring Jenna and Lucas's attempt to call attention to the ever-more-creepy goings-on, and the adults running the camp obviously behind those goings-on.

And the events get frankly fantastic by the end of Brain Camp, going in an unexpectedly science-fictional direction. There are a lot of elements that aren't adequately explained -- for example, Fielding has been operating for several years, yes? and that implies a larger population than the book presents -- but it's sufficiently creepy and makes enough sense at the time that the questions only come up in retrospect. In retrospect, though, Band Camp doesn't work all that well at all -- the details of the creepy plot don't add up, and the ending almost shamelessly hints at a coming sequel. Brain Camp is fine while you read it, or if you don't think too much about it, but anyone as smart as Lucas or Jenna could pick it to shreds.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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