Summary: Henry Lambert would rather play video games than spend time in the great outdoors-but that doesn’t make him a wuss. Skinny nerd? Fine. But wuss is a little harsh. Sadly, his dad doesn’t agree. Which is why Henry is being shipped off to Strongwoods Survival Camp.
Strongwoods isn’t exactly as advertised. It looks like the victim of a zombie apocalypse, the camp director” is a psycho drill sergeant, and Henry’s sure he saw a sign written in blood…
Wilderness Survival Tip #1
Drinking your own sweat will not save your life. Somebody might have told you that, but they were trying to find out if you’d really do it.
Wilderness Survival Tip #2
In case of an avalanche, don’t despair. You’re doomed, but that’s a wicked cool death.
Wilderness Survival Tip #3
If you’re relying on this book for actual survival tips, you’re dead already.
I Have a Bad Feeling About This, by Jeff Strand 7.75
Summer camp can be brutal. Whether its the lack of amenities, the bullies, or the ignorant camp counsellors, there’s often a good reason to return from camp traumatized. But Henry has even more reason to complain: his parents have sent him to Strongwoods Survival Camp to toughen him up!
And you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
‘I Have a Bad Feeling About This’ is a mordant look at what happens when you toss a half-dozen, socially-inept, wimpy teenagers together in a dilapidated shack in the woods – and then put them through the ringer under the supervision of boot camp director Max, a wannabe tough guy.
Honestly, I only picked up the book because it popped up on my local library’s website and the title and cover intrigued me. I never thought I’d actually read it; I thought I’d just peruse it. But I brought it to a friend’s cottage one weekend and was surprised by how much it made me laugh!
I just couldn’t put it down.
Henry is precisely the type of kid I must have been, though I was much more physically active and into sports than he was: he’s a naïve and neurotic video game nerd, a kid who dreams comic book dreams in Technicolor. I loved how Jeff Strand expressed Henry’s thoughts and the connections he made.
Most of it was stream-of-consciousness stuff, of course, as Henry navigated his insecurities to make the right decisions and say the appropriate things, but it put us quite literally in his head – in ways that few other authors could; usually, a character’s thoughts are expressed in simple forms.
Not so here.
Case-in-point, this moment when Henry decides to confront an adversary:
“Items Henry felt would have been useful when he was rushing out to attack a gun-wielding madman: a pitchfork, a pickaxe, a lightweight lawnmower, a Doberman, a ceiling fan attached to a power source with a cord he wouldn’t trip over, ninja stars, an automobile with iron spikes on the front grilles, a voodoo doll of Chad, a cow to use as a shield, three machetes tied together, a wheelbarrow filled with broken glass, Jackie Chan, a fully charged Taser, a shockingly vicious gerbil, a water pistol that contained acid instead of water (but not acid that would eat through the gun itself, which would be inconvenient), an aerodynamic wrench for throwing, a backup wrench for bashing, bottle rockets, a chainsaw that would start on the first three tugs, a gun, rotten eggs, Excalibur, a baseball bat (wooden or aluminium – no preference), a shaken-up can of Mountain Dew, one of those metal things you used to poke at burning firewood, an artificial limb (to use as a bludgeoning device, not for locomotion), better shoes, a bullwhip, a bull to whip, some variety of rocket, Captain America’s shield, Thor’s hammer, Black Widow’s costume for Monica to wear, a reliable flamethrower, a spear, an electric razor (which would do no real damage but might cause Chad to stop and think Why is he running at me with an electric razor? which could prove to be a deadly lapse of concentration), a potted plant, an orangutan, something with poison on it, a laptop computer that he didn’t mind breaking over somebody’s head, the power to control space and time, a lengthy screwdriver, a totally badass-looking piece of wood covered with razor wire and rusty nails, roller skates, a tire iron, a javelin – come to think of it, the roller skates wouldn’t be very helpful on this uneven dirt ground, so he cancelled that wish- a Model 1881 Gatling gun with Bruce-style feed system (U.S. Patents 247,158 and 343,532), a pocketknife, a shark, and/or a scimitar.
Sadly, he had none of these things. The only thing close to a weapon that he had access to was a branch and he remembered how well that had worked in the past.”
Because, yes, while ‘I Have a Bad Feeling About This’ is a comedy, it also needed a little tension. Some of it is your typical teen sexual tension, as Henry meets Monica from the music camp nearby, and some of it comes at the hands of some hoods visiting the camp to extract money from Max.
So although the camp itself is a joke, in the end it’s no laughing matter: Henry and his friends actually have to use what little skills that they’ve picked up in order to survive – which leads to a finale that would make a fine third act in a motion picture someday (because it will have to happen!).
Sadly, that’s when ‘I Have a Bad Feeling About This’ loses some of its appeal. Whereas beforehand it poked fun at adolescence in a manner that self-aware (or precociously cynical) teenagers will relish, it naturally focuses on the action a bit more. It’s still quite entertaining, but not in the same way.
The book is rife with pop cultural references that would matter to young teens and it’s delivered in an irreverent fashion that I found extremely enjoyable (ex: the “Wilderness Survival Tips” at the end of each chapter were a hoot). I suspect that, had I read this when I was 16, I would have adored it.
Heck, even now, at a much more advanced age, I have a good feeling about this.
I guess it spoke to the 16-year-old in me.