A middle school boy and girl, each with a character trait that impedes relationships—Audrey always knows when someone is lying, and Aaron has an indelible memory but no emotional intelligence—develop an unlikely friendship in a wilderness camp.
After various difficulties in their separate schools, Audrey’s and Aaron’s parents enroll them in a desert wilderness camp for 13- and 14-year-olds, where they hike a 200-mile route known as the Journey to Confidence. The other members of the group include the very sad Kate, Louis, who is hypersensitive to stimulation, and Daphne, who is furious at everyone, especially her mother. In fits and starts, the two peculiar protagonists develop an improbable yet believable trust, which in turn gives them a kind of synergistic problem-solving agency. The premise—a pair of oddballs help each other approach normal—is beyond tried and true, yet the authors deliver it with enough permutations to keep it fresh. Specifically, the mix of other troubled kids adds complexity, and the harsh desert landscape conveys wonder and majesty. There are some credibility problems; Audrey’s gift is hard to buy, as is the group leader’s judgment, and although the authors wring a goodly amount of pathos out of Aaron’s character, his hyperfactual Asperger-like personality mix is very familiar.
Quibbles aside, a satisfying read that strikes a good balance between emotional highs and page-turning adventure. (Fiction. 8-12)