Review: Camp Dork by Beth Vrabel
Lucy and her pack are back, in this sequel to Beth Vrabel’s heartwarming and humorous debut, Pack of Dorks. Sheldon convinces Lucy, Sam, April, and Amanda to join him at a weeklong sleep-away summer camp—Camp Paleo: Live Like a Caveman. Like cavemen, they’re going to have to make do without air conditioning or a heated pool. They’ll learn archery and dig for fossils. And Grandma’s coming too; she’s taking a job as lunch lady for the camp next door.
At the last minute, Sam backs out to go to a gymnastics training camp instead. Lucy wonders why she misses him so much—it’s not like he’s her boyfriend or anything. Why does the word “boyfriend” make her blush, even when she’s only thinking it? She needs a distraction. Enter Mr. Bosserman, the grouchy camp leader who won’t budge on the caveman aspect of the camp. The old man needs some softening up, and Lucy knows just the person for the job: Grandma.
One successful match made, Lucy starts to see potential lovebirds everywhere. And setting up couples keeps her from facing the question tickling the back of her mind: Is she in love with Sam? But when the wrong campers fall for each other, the pack falls apart, all under the watchful eye of a super secret blogger who’s been writing about the camp’s activities Gossip Girl–style. Even worse? A thief is targeting everyone but Lucy, setting her up to look guilty. Soon Lucy again finds herself alone, left to fix the messes she’s made and face her own feelings. If she fails, the pack may be splintered for good.
In Camp Dork, the sequel to Beth Vrabel’s well-received middle grade debut, Pack of Dorks, readers are taken on another candid, true-to-life and altogether touching adventure with fourth-grader Lucy. In book one, Park of Dorks , we first encounter Lucy as the popular girl in elementary school- that kid that just seems to be cool and have other cool and seemingly popular friends. Are Lucy and her friends the nicest people? Are Lucy’s popular friends that most caring friends? Well…not exactly, but Lucy doesn’t get a true taste of just how brazenly cruel her once-close friends are until everything turns on her, and she’s forced to face her own prejudices and mistreatment of other outcast kids in her class.
When we meet Lucy again in Camp Dork, she seems to have things under control- well, as under control as can be for her! Her small but tight group of newer friends (self-appointed pack of dorks) are planning to attend a week-long summer sleep-away camp. While Lucy is not entirely on board- what if she misses her parents, her new baby sister and embarrasses herself by being seen as immature?- the thought of her pack going together (and her grandma coming along to work at the camp) seems enough to convince her.
At the very last minute, however, her now-closest-of-the-pack friend Sam cancels when he is invited to a first-class gymnastics camp. And, unfortunately, things don’t get too much better for Lucy from there. While the camp itself is way less than impressive and Lucy can’t get a handle on things, some of her pack seem to be…flourishing. They are making friends, excelling at sports, and kind of (unintentionally) leaving Lucy in the dust. Could it be that Lucy is, once again, going to be alone? Out of her pack and having to fend for herself like a lone wolf? Lucy makes some serious errors in judgement when she tries to control her friends and force her pack to stay together: by badmouthing select campers, spreading rumours on ‘who likes who’, and spilling very personal details about her friends. Like a freight-train, you can see Lucy barreling down a destructive path; you want to reach out and just shout STOP! Vrabel, however, manages to maintain an endearing and honest emotional- and heartfelt- quality to Lucy: she is young girl who makes mistakes, but her honesty and self-reflexiveness allow for her to slowly but surely admit to her wrongdoings, and then sincerely try to make amends.
Vrabel has done a solid job over the course of the two books creating an open, gutsy, imperfect, earnest and funny character in Lucy. Her narrative voice rings as believable, and the mistakes she makes, and the unfortunate meanness of other kids- and how she tries to make things better– will be keenly felt by readers. While there are some secondary storylines/plot turns as well as characters over the course of the two books that feel slightly commonplace, or supporting characters that feel too simply one-dimensional, on the whole, the Pack of Dork titles are poignant and affecting, and Vrabel’s writing is clear and resonant. You cannot help but hope for the best for Lucy and her pack. I hope we get more (mis)adventures of Lucy, Sam and the pack in future books!
Readers who enjoy the work of authors such as Joanne Rocklin, Carol Weston, Heather Vogel Frederick, or those looking to try out middle grade titles that touch more openly on growing pains, making mistakes and learning to be true to oneself, might especially appreciate the Pack of Dorks titles. I would definitely suggest beginning with Pack of Dorks before diving into Camp Dork: reading the introduction to Lucy (and her family), and about her fall from popularity, serious slip-ups, standing up to bullies, and growth are pretty key to getting into the rhythm of Camp Dork.
I received a copy of Camp Dork courtesy of Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.