By Jeff Walsh
In The Order of the Poison Oak, his sequel to Geography Club, Brent Hartinger avoids the 'haven't we been here before' feeling sequels sometimes often evoke by changing up everything but the main characters. This time, we still get Russel, Gunnar and Min from the first book, but the premise of the book is that to get away from everything, the trio become summer camp counselors.
Russel sees it as a way to go somewhere where no one will know he's gay, after starting his school's GSA and becoming the school fag in the process. Gunnar wants to use the summer as a way to avoid girls in general. And Min, who helped start the GSA as well, agrees to go with them.
The book is a fun read where we see the main characters have crushes on other counselors, as they have to learn how to make young camp attendees behave and follow instructions. Even when things could be perceived as heavy-handed (a camp full of burn victims with a forest fire approaching?), Hartinger makes it all work somehow.
Along the way, they learn about themselves, change the way they view other people, great Indian fables, and a lot of other things that sound trite and cliché when listed out like this. But, a lot of that is due to the fact that I don't want to ruin the actual story for you. The whole time I read the book, I just kept turning page after page, completely caught up in what was happening, which is all I ever ask of a book.
By transplanting his characters into a new setting, Hartinger avoided the sophomore slump and makes us wonder what will happen next to his characters. Which, isn't something that we have to wonder for too long now, with the release of Split Screen.