Saturday, August 6, 2016

I Have a Bad Feeling About This

I Have a Bad Feeling About This
by Jeff Strand
Recommended Ages: 14+

Henry doesn't mind being a wuss, but his father decides something must be done about it. So he sends Henry and his best friend Randy off to Strongwoods Survival Camp, where they join three other boys being bullied by a slightly depressed body builder named Max into doing things like building shelters, trapping small animals, and shooting various weapons in the general direction of a target. To say the four nerds, plus one jock who happens to be a closeted nerd, are not very good at these activities would be giving them too much credit. Henry's survival shelter, for example, not only collapses at the lightest touch, it also sends up a cloud of dust, catches fire, sinks into the ground, and proves to be infested with snakes. A lesson about purifying water turns into a projectile vomiting contest. Henry's attempt to chat up Monica, a girl from the nearby music camp, leads to a prank that nearly brings the roof down on the boys' dormitory. The fact that most of the other boys are almost as hopeless doesn't give him much comfort; Henry's fondest hope is just not to be the first kid eliminated from the Survival Games at the end of camp.

But then survival turns into a serious matter, when a trio of gangsters shows up and murders Max before Henry's eyes. Now the goons are after Henry and his friends. Without loaded weapons, with few skills other than those learned by playing video games, they must face the villainous Mr. Grand, who is only too eager to find an excuse to kill teenagers, and his two henchmen besides. And ultimately, everyone's survival depends on poor Henry, hopeless wuss that he is.

This book is a hilarious send-up of everything that can go wrong when modern teens try to learn the old-time arts of survival. It nails the squirming discomfort of boys just short of manhood, measuring themselves against men and feeling inadequate in comparison; the hopeful hopelessness of the same boys trying to impress girls, but finding them far too superior in every way; the tough camp counselor's emotional arc from restrained frustration to sarcasm to despair; the way each member of a group of dorky kids can be incomprehensible to all the others; and the myriad ways nature has the advantage over anyone who has grown up in the sheltered, unreal world that envelops most American teens today. Also, perhaps less plausible but equally entertaining is the amount of hurt a bunch of goofy kids can put on three bad men who meant to bring death to their survival camp. The adventure is thrilling, scary, full of laughs, and (as a bonus) makes fun of the way movie adaptations often mess up perfectly straightforward books.

Except for Elrod McBugle on the Loose, Fangboy, and A Bad Day for Voodoo, most of Jeff Strand's scary-yet-funny novels look like they're aimed at a more mature audience than this book. Their titles include How to Rescue a Dead Princess, Mandibles, Benjamin's Parasite, The Sinister Mr. Corpse, and The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever. He also wrote two Wolf Hunt novels about a couple of gangsters hired to capture werewolves, and four or five "Andrew Mayhem" thrillers whose titles tell me I just have to read them: Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary), Single White Psychopath Seeks Same, Casket For Sale (Only Used Once), and Lost Homicidal Maniac (Answers to "Shirley"). There is also a short-story collection titled Dead Clown Barbecue. There seem to be so many darkly fun directions to go from here, I hardly know which to take!

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