Reality occasionally manages to force its way into a brash young motor mouth’s 1895 account of chills and thrills at a remote Michigan logging camp.
Scarcely has Stan noted the arrival of fearsomely strict granny Cora than he’s being dragged away from his small town to the woods. There, in his mind anyway, loups-garous lurk in the shadows, rough lumberjacks conceal horrific past crimes, and Scary Geri, a slightly older cousin bent on becoming a doctor, waits to “welcome” him. Being both accident-prone and gifted with a hyperactive imagination, Stan falls victim to a string of frights as well as pranks perpetrated by a mysterious mischief-maker. These barely leave him time to pen imaginary letters from his deserter father, absorb the shocking news that his mother has asked for and been granted a divorce, and add wisecrack alterations to the 19th-century ads and other scrapbook clippings that appear here on nearly every spread. DeCamp also saddles Stan with an inability to tell whether he’s keeping his frank opinions to himself or muttering them aloud, and since there are no textual cues, he and readers alike tend to find out which at the same time. It’s a disorienting device, though Stan’s hasty attempts to back and fill add further comedy to his headlong narrative. In the end, it’s back to town and school, with suitors welcome or otherwise trailing after his mother. The author saves the identity of the prankster as a final delicious surprise.
A knee-slapper of a debut featuring a narrator who is rather less than 99 percent reliable but 100 percent engaging. (Historical fiction. 10-12)