________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 19 . . . . May 27, 2005


Camp Wild. (Orca Currents).

Pam Withers.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2005.
104 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-55143-361-3.

Grades 5-7 / Ages 10-12.

Review by Dana Eagles-Daley.

***½ /4

Camp Wild is an adventurous story about rebellion, friendship and responsibility. It is recommended for young, reluctant readers, approximately 10-12 years old. The main character in this short novel is Wilf, a rebellious teenager with an attitude. At the beginning of the story, his parents announce that he is going to Camp Wild whether he likes it or not because, due to a wild previous summer, he cannot be trusted to stay at home alone. Wilf, a likable character with strengths and weaknesses, gets frustrated with his parents and wants to be treated like an adult. Many young readers will be able to identify with Wilf as he comes from an upper-middle class family with parents who work constantly. Herein lies the problem. Angry at always being dumped at camp, Wilf decides even before he leaves home that he will escape by water in order to show his parents that they cannot simply pack him off to camp every summer and then forget about him. His frustration and reactions are believable since the author uses dialogue and Wilf’s personal thoughts in a way that typifies many young Canadian males.

     The other main characters are equally likable, if somewhat stereotypical. There is Claire, the pretty and ever-enthusiastic junior camp-counsellor, on whom Wilf has a crush. In fact, this sub-plot is not only obviously attractive to young readers; it also provides an important opportunity to discuss relationships and sexuality. Claire is also the character that reveals to Wilf that his planned escape route is extremely risky.

     Another character is Patrick, a less-developed character who is an authoritarian and a big-brother figure at the same time. More important are Herb and Charlie who both provide some of the conflict in the story. While Wilf hates that he has been sent to a camp for "babies," Herb is nervous at first and considers the camp an adventure. Indeed, Wilf dislikes Herb immediately, and proceeds to ignore him. Eventually, Herb and Wilf form a bond which radically alters Wilf’s escape plans. Certainly many readers will have had similar experiences relating to the conflict between the seemingly adjusted teenager and the awkward and nervous one. Herb, with his unstylish clothes and awkward mannerisms, is a very recognizable character. It is easy to feel sorry for Herb, who is away from his parents for the first time at age 14, and who gets teased for being chubby. However, it is Herb who demonstrates great maturity later on in the novel and who forces Wilf to become more compassionate, thereby showing character development. In fact, one of the strengths of the novel is that both Herb and Wilf grow and change through the course of the events in the story. Interestingly, the boys react quite differently to adversity, which is a feature that could easily stimulate discussion.

     Charlie is a younger camper who idolizes Wilf. A cute and tenacious character, Charlie is important in the story because Wilf and Herb have extremely different relationships with the boy. Charlie’s accomplishments and misadventures reveal Wilf as likable, arrogant, selfish and penitent. In contrast, Herb is overbearing, surprisingly athletic, resourceful and compassionate toward the younger boy. Perhaps more than any other character, Charlie introduces pathos into the story. He is certainly an enjoyable character who is full of energy and spirit.

     Camp Wild also engages the reader through the use of convincingly detailed canoeing and kayaking scenes, both during the dramatic getaway and during lighter camp activity scenes. This outdoor theme certainly appeals to reluctant readers, especially when combined with the rebellion and adventure of Wilf’s escape from Camp Wild. There are many beautiful and exciting passages, such as the following which begins the bold flight into the wilderness:

Everything’s dark and quiet, save for where the moon shines. And the moon doesn’t shine on the route we pick to our hidden canoes. Nor does the turkey vulture call out as two canoes slip silently into the inky water. With one last glance behind us, we whisper good riddance to the kiddie kingdom in the woods. Here we come, real adventure.

     This theme offers a great opportunity to do some research into these sports either as a class or as an individual reader. Unfortunately, the real action in the book does not start until approximately halfway through it. However, once it starts, the obstacles are constant and thrilling. In addition, there are many advanced vocabulary words, which means that there is opportunity to learn vocabulary, and also to challenge more advanced readers.

     Overall, this novel is a worthwhile read. It is essentially about a young boy who is angry at his parents because he feels abandoned, and so he plots a dangerous escape from camp. Tackling Wilf’s anger toward his parents is brave and relevant. The story is fun, interesting and it touches on many pertinent subjects such as the teen struggle to jump from childhood into adulthood. Furthermore, the story explores various relationships, such as parent-child relationships, friendships among teenagers, and opposite-sex relationships. There is something for almost any young reader, especially those that have a love for sports, adventure and the outdoors. The ending of Camp Wild is satisfying although slightly predictable. Yet, it still manages to portray some of the complexities of parenthood and the mistakes that parents can make. Overall, this novel is quite dynamic and compelling. It is worth the ride!

Highly Recommended.

Dana Eagles-Daley is a Special Education Teacher in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.