After reading and loving Faith Erin Hicks’ Friends With Boys, I went looking for her other books and artwork. I found the graphic novel Brain Camp, and Hicks did not write the story (writing credit goes to Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan), she provides the artwork. Unlike the black and white art in Friends with Boys, Brain Camp is fully colored, similar to the bright and lively color in Raina Telemaiger’s Smile and Drama.
Brain Camp is about Jenna and Lucas, two adolescent/teenage characters (both are almost fourteen). When a mysterious man with a briefcase shows up at their houses one night, encouraging their parents to send them to Camp Fielding, they are sent there immediately, even if it’s not really the place that they want to be spending their summer. Jenna and Lucas don’t like each other at first. There are a series of great illustrations that contain Jenna and Lucas’s thoughts about one another in bubbles, namely “freak” “thug” and “nerd” “gansta wannabe.” Both are entering the camp as it is already in progress: there have just been two unexplained openings at Camp Fielding, due to both a boy and a girl camper being unable to continue at the camp.
Kim and Klavan write in an authentic and endearing teenage voice, relocating the cliques and friendships of middle school and high school to a summer camp in the middle of the woods. Jenna and Lucas stand apart from the others at the camp, who are all incredibly smart and characterized as genius. The opening scenes of the graphic novel show Lucas breaking into and stealing a car, and Jenna writing and acting scenes from plays in her room, while her talented sister plays piano for an audience of her parents’ (both doctors) friends downstairs. When they arrive at camp, Lucas and Jenna exchange the epithets that have been used to describe them. Both admit that they are “dumb,” and Jenna tells Lucas, “Actually I’m secretly ‘bright’ but for some reason I’m a real ‘underachiever,’” while Lucas parrots similar descriptors to Jenna, “Underachiever…nice to meet you. I’m a ‘lazy slacker’ with a ‘bad attitude.’” They also meet a kid named Dwayne, and the three form a friendship that mainly revolves around complaining about the camp.
It doesn’t take them long to figure out that all is not as it seems at Camp Fielding. There is something mysterious going on that turns normal kids into geniuses, and numerous disappearances of campers. The most blatant evidence of this occurs on the night when Jenna is locked out of her cabin and has to sleep outside. The next morning, the rest of the girls in her cabin are suddenly smarter, less emotional, and nowhere near normal. Jenna, Lucas, and Dwayne try to get to the bottom of what is going on at Camp Fielding, and the answer is a lot more complicated and horrifying than they could have guessed.
Hicks’ artwork captures the feel of summer camp, and the nuances of the teenaged characters Kim and Klavan have created. Kim and Klavan have written some great dialogue, and the characters are both realistic and interesting. They are also overwhelmingly flawed, which leads to a few plot twists and story arcs that lead the reader down a new and exciting path of story. I bought this book because of Hicks’ art, but loved the story Kim and Klavan crafted, and the summer camp setting that they created in the process.