A SPARK OF GOODNESS by Charles Brady


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A well-intentioned, moderately informative, but largely unconvincing tale about the rehabilitation--via camp and wilderness living--of emotionally-disturbed teenage criminals. The ""Chiefs"" who direct the senior group at Missouri's Maple Valley Camp are Steve Zebley, accomplished woodsman and group leader (whose up-and-down romantic adventures will counterpoint throughout), and Trave Rogers, his untried but likably enthusiastic assistant. Among the incorrigibles: Paul Phelps, who scorched his high-school building, a ""welfare"" meal-ticket to his uncaring, sleep-around mother; Randy Hutchinson, a paroled shoplifter and unwitting accomplice to murder (his hateful parents gave him things instead of love); near-genius Arthur, street-gang/drugs mastermind; would-be prizefighter Mike; sex-offender Myron; withdrawn Freddie; psychotic Rod; and powerhouse Bill, who prefaces remarks by ""Grrrr!"" when he's upset. Slowly, then, these disparate egos begin to mesh--with problem sessions (called on the spot when fights start), with imaginative work projects. They'll even build a covered bridge--an impressive, difficult team-project. And during the bridge-building misanthropic Paul makes his first friend, Randy. But Paul also has plans to destroy the bridge, not to mention anxieties about male friendship: he runs away several times, always brought back by peer pressure. (""Every time you run away we're going to help you not to,"" intones one of the boys.) So, though Paul's last violent act nearly kills Steve, his spark of goodness catches fire at last. . . while Randy's expanding life (new skills, a loving girlfriend) will be snuffed out by the cruelty of his parents. And the last group adventure is a ten-week river trip enlivened by dangerous shallows, floods, a tornado, and a ripped-off motor. The kids slip into their socio-psychology notches only too easily; their dialogue seems laundered to a Utopian starch. And, though Brady is somewhat more skillful with the mechanical sentimentality here than he was with the mechanical suspense of Seven Games in October (1979), this is Psych. Field Study 101 done in primary colors--okay on group-therapeutic procedures, TV-movie-tepid otherwise.

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1982
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin