Good morning, campers!

Grab your sunscreen, your bug spray, and your choice of summer camp story from these five offerings for intermediate and middle school readers. For more, see our interview about the Boston Comic Arts Foundation’s upcoming Picture + Panel: Summer Camp with Marika McCoola and Violet Chan Karim, our 2024 Summer Reading Recommendations, and our chapter books, middle grade, and YA summer camp booklists in the Guide/Reviews Database.

Sink or Swim
by Lee Durfey-Lavoie; illus. by Veronica Agarwal
Intermediate, Middle School    RH Graphic/Random    320 pp.
6/24    9780593125519    $22.99
Library ed.  9781984897039    $25.99
Paper ed.  9781984897022    $14.99
e-book ed.  9781984897046    $8.99

At the start of this graphic novel, swimmer Tyler “Shark Fin” de Lugo has just gotten his cast off after a broken arm. It seems like perfect timing, with sleepaway camp about to begin. But Ty’s best friend, swim teammate, and camp bunkmate Max has been acting distant, angry, and strange, and Ty’s negative self-talk — in both the ­first-person (“I got fat. I’m not good enough anymore. I’m useless as a friend, useless to the team”) and dialogue (“Was he making fun of me? I must look like garbage right now.” “Of course he was making fun of you…idiot”) — is preventing him from getting back in the water. In fact, when Ty is feeling low, the graphic-panel art often shows him imagining being nearly drowned. Durfey-Lavoie and Agarwal (Just Roll with It, rev. 9/21) present another sympathetic and flawed protagonist whose experiences and interactions are understandable and affecting. A few helpful adults at the camp, including a former high school football star turned chill-dude counselor, give Ty some strategies and messaging for countering his insecurities and moving forward. Easy-to-follow panel art in subdued hues helps set the summer-camp scene, reflecting challenges that are cooperative both physically (e.g., building a boat) and emotionally (opening up to a friend — and maybe more) along with individual growth and acceptance. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

by Robin Easter; illus. by the author
Middle School    LB Ink/Little, Brown    256 pp.
5/24    9780316429429    $24.99
Paper ed.  9780316429528    $12.99
e-book ed.  9780316429627    $9.99

It’s the summer before high school and Ashton’s last year at performing arts camp. In addition to being stage manager for their camp’s big performance, Ash is determined to make this a summer to remember. This includes finally asking their best friend, Ivy, out on a more-than-friends date. Things seem wrong from the beginning, though: the two are assigned to different cabins, and Ash is reluctant to form friendships with their new bunkmates. Meanwhile, Ivy’s bond with the show’s costar, Lucas, sparks a wave of jealousy. As Ash grows increasingly disappointed by their distance from Ivy, they start taking their frustration out on others. This graphic novel is rife with coming-of-age social drama, yet the tone is optimistic through all the ­protagonist’s ups and downs. The campers are a diverse group of various races, genders, and sexual orientations; each camper has their own distinctive flair. Sketches from Ash’s notebook appear throughout the story, depicting caricatures of themself and their friends as characters in the play. Ash saves the final performance by filling in as a last-minute Fairy Godmother, giving them the boost of confidence needed to share their secret feelings with Ivy. HILL SAXTON

The Last Rhee Witch
by Jenna Lee-Yun
Intermediate, Middle School    Disney-Hyperion    352 pp.
5/24    9781368099073    $17.99

In this middle-grade fantasy with a Korean folkloric twist, Korean American Ronnie Miller, twelve, works to solve the mystery behind the specter haunting her during summer camp at Rhee Manor in gloomy, woodsy Washington State. Although her best friend is also attending the two-week session, Ronnie worries about fitting in and misses her widowed father. Eerie encounters with Min-Young, a murdered Rhee family heiress, initially scare Ronnie, but the tween befriends the gwisin (ghost) and helps Min-Young figure out what her unfinished tasks are while she evades a witch-hunting dokkaebi (goblin). Over the course of the book, Ronnie makes new friends and allies, uncovers family secrets, and outmaneuvers the enemy while adapting to her newfound magical abilities. Suspenseful scenes are tempered with regular summer camp activities such as scavenger hunts. What elevates this supernatural tale is the protagonist’s emotional journey; Ronnie’s initial imposter syndrome, fears of not being “Korean enough,” and unexplored grief over the death of her mother and grandfather are all sensitively drawn. Ultimately, she learns that love, friendship, and sharing memories prevail. MICHELLE LEE

Camp Sylvania: Moon Madness
by Julie Murphy and Crystal Maldonado
Intermediate, Middle School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    256 pp.
5/24    9780063347267    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780063347335    $10.99

Camp Sylvania, no longer a “fat camp” and (hopefully) vampire-free (Camp Sylvania, rev. 7/23), is now under the direction of Luna Lupowski, lover of all things New Age, who makes the campers toss their toiletries and sunscreen in favor of mystical water charged by the moon. This year Maggie brings her best friend, Nora, along, and she’s thrilled they’ll get to experience camp together. Maggie can’t wait to search for the paranormal, but Nora’s perfect summer involves befriending edgy bunkmate Claire and going to the dance with a boy. Of course there is something weird going on: a camper disappears after an animal tore apart his cabin, and others develop an excessive amount of body hair. It’s up to Maggie and Nora to solve the mystery, while the really scary thing is that their friendship is growing apart. The first book’s fat-liberation themes are here exchanged for a message about accepting the bodily changes that come with puberty. Nora and Maggie take turns as narrators, their engaging voices giving insight into both sides of their middle-school friendship drama. Snappy dialogue and gentle poking fun at New Agey-ness (workshops include “Primal Screaming 101” and “Water Has Feelings Too!”) add to the humor. BODIE SHANIS

Camp Prodigy
by Caroline Palmer; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Atheneum    256 pp.
6/24    9781665930383    $22.99
Paper ed.  9781665930376    $12.99
e-book ed.  9781665930390    $9.99

In this graphic novel, Tate Seong wants nothing more than to be as skilled a violist as their idol, Eli Violet. Not only is Eli a musical prodigy, they’re out to the world as nonbinary, while Tate’s gender identity remains a secret. Tate is shocked to find upon arriving at a camp for musicians that Eli is attending incognito as regular kid Eli Vance. The two forge a pact: Eli will give Tate viola lessons, and Tate won’t tell anyone about Eli’s fame. With their new friend’s support, Tate rises in the camp orchestra’s ranks, earning themself a coveted solo spot in the final performance. Eli, on the other hand, eventually finds peace with not always being the best. The story speaks to many of the pressures that come with figuring out who you are and what you’re capable of. Palmer’s digital illustrations are packed with energy, frequently jumping back and forth between more detailed depictions of characters and simple comic-style doodles. Rich blends of reds, purples, and blues fill the backgrounds of each panel and page — a strong visual addition to this musical tale. In addition to helping Tate with their music, Eli gives them the confidence to come out to their family. “This is your gift to them. They’d better appreciate it.” HILL SAXTON

From the June 2024 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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