Friday, July 1, 2016

Recommended Reading for 7/1: Camp Midnight

It's the beginning of July, so that means summer is really here now, and there are lots of things that people think about when it's summer. One of the things that many kids look forward to most is camp, and all the different fun things you get to do there. I never did sleepaway camp, but I know lots of people who did, and many still fondly remember it years later. But what would happen if you wound up on the wrong bus, to the wrong camp, with people who weren't like you? As a matter of fact, you wound up at a camp that wasn't for people at all, but for child monsters? That's the premise of Steven T. Seagle and Jason Adam Katzenstein's all ages graphic novel, Camp Midnight.

Skye's parents split up a couple years ago, and she's on the way to spend her summer with her dad, and his new wife, who Skye calls her "step-monster." In all fairness, Gayle isn't exactly warm and fuzzy, and when Skye finds out she won't be spending summer with her dad, but sent away to camp, she makes it clear she won't enjoy it. And when they're running late, they arrive to find all the buses heading off to the different camps, and since neither Skye's dad or Gayle can quite remember the name of the camp Skye's supposed to go to, just that it has an M in the name, they get her on the first bus that looks right: the bus to Camp Midnight.

If the name of the camp wasn't ominous enough, the bus was oddly quiet and dark, and the camp itself is... strange. The only person Skye meets who seems normal is Mia, a shy girl who wants to be Skye's friend. Skye is resistant, just to put the screws to Gayle, to make it clear she won't make friends or enjoy anything. But she starts to warm to Mia pretty quickly, But she doesn't warm to the camp, especially when she finds out that most of the camp activities take place at night, and that the other campers aren't normal kids, but monsters!

The story reads like a normal camp story, with games, contests, and scary stories, with the coming of age aspects of making friends, cute boys, and dealing with the popular kids, but mixing in all the monster elements to give it an extra air of creepiness. The cute boy, Griffin, who seems to like Skye just happens to be a werewolf. The queen of the mean girls in Skye's cabin, Abcynthia, isn't just the daughter of Head Counselor Cobb, but also happens to be a witch. And there's the question of exactly what Mia is, something that plays out over the course of the whole book.

Sky's adventures at Camp Midnight are, thematically, about her learning to be herself, and to give new things a chance. She arrives so sure that she won't enjoy camp, that Gayle is wrong, that she shuts herself off from everyone, and makes it hard for Mia and Griffin to be friends with her. The mystique she builds around herself by not revealing her true form (which she doesn't have, since she's human), makes her a mystery at camp, but doesn't help with people getting close to her. And over the course of the book, she opens up. She learns that just because you're a monster doesn't mean you're evil and scary, and even things that monsters are afraid of aren't bad.

While Skye is the central character, we spend a lot of time getting to know Mia too. She's very shy, very excitable, and seems to be keeping a secret from Skye and everyone else. She seems to have her own baggage, something that is keeping her from connecting with anyone else, but as opposed to Skye, she seems to want to. The balance of their relationship, and the questions about what each of them are, drives much of the story and Skye's journey.

Jason Adam Katzenstein's art is not photorealistic, but plays with all sorts of weird body shapes and exaggerations. His style gits the world view of a teenager, who when she's angry her head and mouth enlarge to show her rage, for instance. His style makes the monsters especially creepy, since they not only don't look human, but their proportions and body language also seems off. The lettering and sound effects also are eye-grabbing, as little bits of desecration that are coming from inside Skye's head pop-up on page as she sees something. It's not the kind of art you're used to seeing, but it works very well for this book.

Steven T. Seagle is one of the founder of Man Of Action, the studio that has created such all ages hits as Ben 10 and the characters in Big Hero 6, so when it comes to a pedigree for all ages far, it doesn't come a lot higher than that. The book is full of scares that aren't too much for a kid, and a moral about being yourself that is great for kids if all ages. Camp Midnight is a perfect read for a summer afternoon, for both the grown-ups and the kids in your life.

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