Chiggers are a bug that get under your skin and itch; let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. In this book, they’re the plot device that gets one girl out of Abby’s cabin at camp, and a new girl, Shasta, in. Shasta claims to have been struck by lightning, to have a much older internet boyfriend, to be one-eighth Cherokee. Almost everyone finds her incredibly annoying, but Abby is intrigued.
This is sort of a story about Abby and Shasta, but it’s mostly a story about camp — how friendships shift from one summer to the next and even one day to the next; how camp is this crucible for adolescent self-discovery. I didn’t go to your standard summer camp with cabins and swimming and macrame; I went to CTY (Carlisle session 2 ’91-’94, baby!), nerd camp on a college campus. But I recognized Chiggers all the same (boy, did I ever). I’m pretty sure people who didn’t do the camp thing will love this — it’s about friendships, after all, and everyone has those — but it gave me a special kick in the nostalgia-pants. Every scene had an analog in my own camp memories.
For example, Abby and her friends are discussing the girl who went home with chiggers:
Zoe: And she got them in the worst place, too!
Beth: … There?! That’s disgusting!
Beth or Zoe (we just see a hand tousling Abby’s hair): Aw, you’re so innocent, Abby.
Abby: You guys suck.
Ouch. That scene totally never happened to me.
I don’t mean to make this review all about psychoanalyzing my inner 13-year-old. I’m just amazed at how well Hope Larson captured adolescent girl silliness, introspection, and insecurities. It’s a little unsettling.
The art is pretty much perfect — high-contrast, no shading, but with wonderfully expressive faces. In one of my favorite moments, Shasta has just casually mentioned to Abby that she broke up with her boyfriend and now likes the same boy Abby likes. Half of the page is a tall panel of Shasta looking in the mirror, brushing her long black hair, which cascades down to fill the bottom of the panel. Abby is crouched in a corner of Shasta’s all-encompassing hair, shivering, diminished in the face of Shasta’s gorgeousness and (Abby assumes) obvious power to have any boy she wants. Shasta is blissfully unaware of Abby’s reaction.
In summary: love, love, love. I can’t wait to make all my kids read this. Maybe this will be the book that will convert them to graphic novels!