Jul 032017

Cover of Feral Youth by Shaun David Hutchinson.Kirkus: Ten teenagers have been blindfolded by their camp counselors, taken into the woods, and left to find their way back to the main camp, in three days. Camp Zeppelin Bend isn’t a fun summer camp. It’s a mandatory camp created for teens whose lives have led them there as a last stop before jail or juvie. As a coping strategy, each teen takes a turn to tell a story, and no one knows what is true and what isn’t.

The main character who carries the narration of this book, Gio, prompts the storytelling challenge. In alternating chapters, written by different authors, each teen shares the disturbing experiences that led them to Zeppelin Bend. Wealthy, white Georgia shares a ghost story connected to being bullied. Jenna, also rich and white, reveals the deteriorating mental state that led her to pyromania. Tino, who’s Mexican, like Gio, boasts of the actions he took to avenge his father’s death in a haunting tale set in a small California college town.

As the collection progresses, each story grows more fantastical, with many that allude to mythology and fairy tales. From the first sentence (“I’m not a liar”), collection editor Hutchinson grabs readers with a raw, spot-on monologue that invites readers into heavy issues teens are struggling to navigate, many with distant or absent parents. Due to the mature, often raw content, this is a book that would also be valuable for adult readers who have the courage to face the darker things teens don’t tell them. A compelling, uncomfortable narrative that lets readers know that the tragedy the world can bring to teens transcends socio-economics, gender, and race.