Hartinger, Brent. The Order of the Poison Oak. Harper Teen, 2012 (reprint). ISBN 978-0060567323 176 pp. $
Hartinger’s breezy style draws the reader directly into this sequel to Geography Club (HarperTempest, 2003). Russel is the center of this story as well. Ready to “get away from it all” (it being his outing at his high school) he agrees to apply for a job as camp counselor at Camp Serenity with best friends Min and Gunnar. The first camp session is devoted to children who are burn survivors or have some other skin disfigurations, bringing them together in a place where they will be with other children like them and treated as “normal” kids. This, on top of learning to deal with a cabin full of subversive 10 year olds, is a challenge for Russel, but he finds a friend and ally in Otto, a counselor who was once a camper attending the session one program.
Summer romance is a co-plot of the book. Min and Russel are both interested in beautiful and perfect Web, and awkward Gunnar has sworn off women because of his own awkwardness. The overall theme of developing a thick skin to protect yourself from name-calling is a bit heavy handed, but it takes Russel creating a ritual for his campers to believe this truth for himself. The plot is predictable but still enjoyable and character development realistic as Russel reacts well to some moral dilemmas and fails to do the right thing in other instances. A must-read for fans, The Order of the Poison Oak will make those new to the characters want to go back and read Geography Club.