In this debut middle-grade novel, a girl learns at summer camp that she has an unusual ability, which may help in hunting for her brother.
On the way to Camp Glynwood for the summer, Celia Johnson, 11, is already working out the details of how she’ll return to Brooklyn. She has no intention of enjoying four weeks in the woods while her younger brother, Kyel, is missing. True, camp isn’t as bad as she feared; the girls come in every complexion, including her own “dark hot chocolate” shade, and the place feels “loved and worn…like her favorite Brooklyn Dodgers sweatshirt,” once Kyel’s. She even makes tentative friends with a quirky blond girl, Violet, whose father has died. Nevertheless, on her first night, Celia escapes, but crash-lands her borrowed bicycle in the woods, where she makes an incredible discovery: She can talk to animals. Some of them think they can help with Celia’s search, but she must stay at camp and arrange to visit the Snapping Turtle King. He has a certain gift that could aid Celia, but has been driven insane by grief, blaming another long-ago “Speaker” for the death of his wife. Celia, meanwhile, must face an important truth and several difficulties before she can carry out some crucial tasks—with unexpected assistance from several camp figures—and restore the balance of several lives. In her novel, Hales writes with sensitivity about loss, using well-honed images. Violet’s laugh, for example, “made Celia think of a flash of tinsel catching the sunlight from a grey, winter sidewalk. There was a sharp crispness wrapped in sadness that Celia understood.” Animals and people are deftly characterized, and the author does a nice job of capturing the atmosphere of a good summer camp: its activities, traditions, in-jokes, and sensory feel. Celia’s psychological growth from denial to acceptance of loss is artfully and realistically handled, despite the book’s fantasy aspects, which work well as a kind of drama taking place in a symbolic landscape.
Both poignant and hopeful, a beautifully calibrated coming-of-age tale that deals thoughtfully with grief and recovery.