Sunday 27 August 2023

This Camp is Doomed

This Camp is Doomed by Anna Zobel (Puffin Books) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN97817611047565

Sub-titled ‘A Dennith Grange Misadventure’, this 309-page novel for children aged 9+ years, starts with Mr Berg and Ms Malatesta in charge of a busload of students headed for four nights to Camp Buttress which is run by the Klock family. Portraits of the ten children from year 7, with their names, are shown before the story begins. For some reason, the publisher has chosen to write under their names she/her, he/him, and they/them (irritating and unnecessary). During the story, the teachers are referred to as Michael and Maggie.

It turns out that the Camp in the woods is run-down and there’s no phone reception. Celine is seeing conspiracies everywhere. Fionn has a bad premonition about the colour blue, and Mr Berg is horrified at the camp’s questionable safety standards. There’s a mystery which will have readers guessing as the students and their teachers try to solve it – and survive.

In her first upper-primary novel, Anna Zobel turns her knack for writing diverse characters to the task of creating an engrossing adventure-mystery story for imaginative readers. The kids of Dennith Grange School inhabit a world where coming-of-age challenges include not only the social vagaries of pre-adolescence but also the spontaneous onset of one’s individual ‘powers’ (anything from premonitions to shapeshifting), which are as much emblems of growth, transition and individuality as they are superpowers. But this isn’t a fantasy novel; it’s a journey into a world only slightly different to ours, where ghosts are still mysterious and school camps a labyrinth of challenges (for teachers and students alike!).

One of the book’s strengths is its refusal to pander to predictability at any level, from character construction to relationship dynamics, plot progression and the ultimate resolution—yet the narrative decisions never feel self-conscious or forced. An example is the relatable, believable tensions between the kids on camp, which aren’t simplified into formulaic scenarios such as bullying but are based on more interesting inner qualities and needs. All the characters have vulnerabilities, challenges, strengths, and passions, and all are worth getting to know. (The third-person limited perspective shifts between one teacher and two students, but the second teacher and eight other children are all equally unique.) Whimsical, a tiny bit spooky, affirming, engaging, sincere, insightful, and occasionally funny, This Camp is Doomed surely won’t be the only Dennith Grange Misadventure Puffin publishes. This novel has been described as ‘a deliciously spooky mystery with magic, mischief and mayhem.’

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