Thursday, January 8, 2009

Review of Chiggers by Hope Larson

Like boarding school, summer camp is an experience I never had as a child and so it seems exotic, thrilling, and a bit scary to me. Summer camp is perfect fodder for children’s and YA books – kids from all over are thrown together in cabins for a finite period. Some know each other, some are strangers, and somehow they must survive until their parents pick them up several weeks later – at which time they all go back to their “real” lives.

In Chiggers, Abby is thrilled to go back to summer camp where she had so much fun in previous years. However, all of her friends seem to have changed in the year since Abby last saw them. They are suddenly interested in boys or music or fashion or all three, and Abby feels completely uncool next to them. Then a new girl named Shasta joins the cabin, with mysterious medical conditions and some unbelievable stories. Are they true? Is Shasta a liar? Abby likes her despite being a bit uncertain – and although they weather some difficulties, they end up being friends.

The story rings absolutely true. Except for Shasta’s amazing affinity for lightning (or vice versa), all the events are absolutely prosaic – meals in the cafeteria, forest hikes, singing around the campfire, and lots of girls standing around in small groups talking and gossiping. A sweet D & D-playing boy tells Abby she looks like an elf – actually, a half-elf – and she floats happily for days. This is exactly the sort of comment that would thrill one particular 14-year-old I know, and it would have thrilled me at that age as well.

The ages of these girls aren’t stated, but late middle-school, very early high-school seems about right. Abby is clearly a late-bloomer, and how well can I remember what it felt like to feel my friends move away from me as they chattered to each other about boys and music, while I was still such a dorky kid (and happy to stay that way for a while longer). Abby’s friends aren’t quite old enough to fully participate in all that adolescence has to offer, but they desperately want to. There are no “mean girls” at this camp, but many of the girls make off-the-cuff remarks that are hurtful or catty, and of course two girls who have a close friendship can hurt a third girl without even realizing it. This book explores all the complicated ways girls relate to each other.

The black and white artwork is simple and expressive. At first I had trouble telling all the campers apart, but within 20 pages that problem disappeared and I was thoroughly absorbed in the story.

For grades 5 to 9.


  1. I remember the camp years well. I call it the best laid plans of moms and dads. I was suppose to meet my Romeo the second summer of my camp years. But it turned in to a family vacation. I was too frustated.Oh but Fifteen was something to be hold. Michael Jackson singing " Let's take it slow..." We did!

  2. A boarding school is a school where some or all pupils study and live during the school year with their fellow students and possibly teachers or administrators.

    Sigh* I remember those days, I often watch my childhood crush from a little bit afar from her, hahah. Though I was dissapointed when the last years of my summer camp because she wasn't there.
    It's nice to remember and reminiscence on those memories.