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Review: The Order of the Poison Oak by Brent Hartinger

Thursday, March 21, 2013
4 Stars: A Great Read
Series: Russel Middlebrook #2
Paperback: 169 Pages
Publication: December 12, 2012 by Buddha Kitty Books
Original Publication: March 1, 2005 by HarperTempest

Summer camp is different from high school. Something about spending the night.

Things happen.

Geography Club's Russel Middlebrook is back, and he and his friends are off to work as counselors at a summer camp. This is the story of Indian legends, skinny-dipping in moonlit coves, and passionate summer romance. It's also the story of Russel's latest club, the Order of the Poison Oak, a secret society dedicated to helping its members see life's hidden beauty and accept its sometimes painful sting.

Russ never ceases to delight me with his antics (and side comments to the reader). After joining the Gay-Straight-Bisexual Alliance at his high school, Russ has lost the little social standing that he used to have. Sure, he no longer has to compromise who he is as a person, but it doesn't change the fact that high school life is miserable. That's why, he's delighted to have the chance to escape it all at a camp where no one knows that he's gay.

Of course, it's not that easy to hide your sexual tendencies when one of your fellow camp counselors is deliciously hot and you can't stop looking at him. Even more so when you keep running into him (it's kind of hard when you're stuck in the mountains together for ten weeks). I didn't really like Wes (hot fellow camp counselor). He always seemed like the kind to fool around. On the other hand, Otto... there's a real guy. He understands pain and suffering, he has a beautiful voice, and he talks about "nerdy" things like books and all. Another character I adore is Ian, one of the little campers. He's outspoken and drives Russ nuts, but in the end he's a vulnerable little boy looking for truth in the world, looking for evidence that the world isn't all bad.

Russ and his two best friends (Min, an intelligent, bisexual Chinese American, and Gunnar, a nerdy, straight Norwegian) all suffered failed romances in the last book. Now, Russ and Min both lust after hot camp counselor Wes while Gunnar has given up on finding a girlfriend for the moment. However, the phrase "summer romance" exists for a reason, and the three friends will find themselves involved in a bunch of drama once more in the name of love. In a way, I'm jealous of their friendship because they can fight with one another and patch things up later. Plus, it's fun to see them get angry over the most outrageous reasons (it doesn't feel like it in the moment for them, but they'll probably laugh over these matters when they're older).

I enjoyed seeing the friends in a new and different setting. Russ and his friends learn more about love and different kinds of struggles while interacting with their first group of campers. Again, there are some suggestive scenes, but they are kept clean and can be read by middle-grade readers in addition to older readers who enjoy some good humor.

A copy was provided by Brent Hartinger for review.

Russel Middlebrook Series

#1 Geography Club (read my review here)
#2 The Order of the Poison Oak (read my review here)
#3 Double Feature (read my review here)
#4 The Elephant of Surprise (read my review here)
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