Secrets of Camp Whatever Vol. 1 by Chris Grine
There’s more than mosquitos at Secrets of Camp Whatever and Willow will need to face truths about herself and her family as summer camp dread goes head to head with the supernatural.
Eleven-year-old Willow doesn’t want to go to her dad’s weird old summer camp any more than she wants her family to move to the weird old town where that camp is located. But her family—and fate itself—seem to have plans of their own. Soon Willow finds herself neck-deep in a confounding mystery involving stolen snacks, suspected vampires, and missing campers, all shrouded in the sinister fog that hides a generation of secrets at Camp … Whatever it’s called.
Secrets of Camp Whatever Story
Secrets of Camp Whatever is a horror/mystery story aimed at middle schoolers. In some ways, it is very much like Gravity Falls but without the out and out weirdness or humour though I think a more apt comparison would-be cult classic Eerie Indiana. The Secrets of Camp Whatever leans heavily on Willow’s curiosity and investigative instinct to push the action along. Willow, a deaf, eleven-year-old is very reluctant to attend summer especially as her family is moving to a new town. Willow’s a confident kid but her anxiety due to her deafness in being around new people is apparent. She’s a likeable protagonist. She quickly forms a gang with Violet and Emma.
From the off, there’s something odd about Camp Nowhere. Set on an isolated misty surrounded by woods it is a classic horror setting. Willow’s nerves are put on edge by the eccentric characters she meets even before she gets to the camp from the creepy clown greeting parents at the dock to the obnoxious camp director Mr Tooter. I don’t want to give too much away in terms of plot but there are creatures in the woods around Camp Nowhere and there is something disturbing them. Much of the story focuses on Willow’s efforts to find out what is at the heart of the weirdness that is happening on the island.
At over 270 pages long, I felt that the book lagged in places. It was neither weird nor as scary as I would have liked. There is plenty of humour in the book and some neatly written dialogue. A favourite line of mine is Willow muttering under her breath that she’ll “Disable your face” after someone refuses to fight her because of her deafness. Overall I felt like it played it a bit too safe. There really was only one moment when Willow’s deafness put her in jeopardy, and I felt there was more that could have been done around the challenges she faces living in a hearing world.
However, as a mystery book, it works well, especially for its target demo ( my 10 year nephew enjoyed it a lot). Willow and her gang use their wits and cunning to solve their problems which is welcome as it would have been easy for this to devolve into an action comic. I was pleasantly surprised that the book managed to wrong-foot me too on occasion.
Secrets of Camp Whatever Art
The art is smooth. With one notable exception, everything on the page is perfectly judged. Page layouts and panel composition meant it was easy to read, and my eyes never felt lost. I love the choice to thickly line the characters. Grine has a keen eye for giving just enough detail to each panel to make it work. Secrets of Camp Whatever is pleasing to look at. There is a savvy use of colours to set the ambience. The character designs are cracking, ranging from the wholesome Emma to the mysterious Mr Elric.
However, there is one thing that annoyed me tremendously. All the characters have red noses. I found this distracting, and it is not a choice that I understand. Aside from that, the art here is excellent.
Secrets of Camp Whatever is a cute horror mystery story. It sits somewhere between Nancy Drew and the aforementioned Gravity Falls. So if you like either of those, you’ll love this. Apart from the pacing lagging a bit toward the middle of the book, this is accomplished storytelling and a graphic novel that I think many children will enjoy a great deal.
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