Initial reaction: A solid 5-star read from my first experience with Robert Lettrick. “Frenzy” is equal parts enthralling for adventure, survival and horror after an outbreak at a camp turns the animals wild, and equal parts humor and engaging for the characters presented and how they take it upon themselves to survive. I was really impressed with this middle-grade work and would highly recommend it.
I have enough reactions about Robert Lettrick’s middle grade horror book “Frenzy” to talk about it for days. I didn’t expect to be blindsided by this read at all, but I remembered seeing it on NetGalley and the blurb intrigued me enough to pick it up. I used to read a ton of middle grade horror and thought “Oooh, camp survival horror story oriented towards middle grade/YA readers? I’m there. I’m definitely there.”
I didn’t expect it to connect with me like this though. Heath is the primary perspective character, but the way it’s written is in third person, so it toggles between a group of kids who are all spending their time trying to adjust to the ins and outs of summer camp. The amount of characters may seem like a bit to swallow at first, but they’re easy to get to know.
And it becomes easier when the body count starts rising after the scheme of events in this novel. Yeah, this book does not skimp on character deaths, and some of them *hurt*. Dude, they hurt.
The way the characters are developed is refreshing compared to most because you get an idea of their motivations and they have more dimension than even most YA books I’ve picked up (and are PROACTIVE characters, I can’t stress that enough).
Heath is a boy who believes in doing the right thing, playing peacemaker, but at the same time he has his own mischievous streaks. Floaters (or Miles) appears to be a brash bully who can’t swim, but he’s really someone who’s been given a hard time in his life and tries to redeem himself where he can. Will is a boy who believes in approaching everything from the perspective of chess, and makes no apologies about using people to his own ends in the same way as set pieces. Emily and Emma are twins who enjoy horses and riding, but don’t quite bargain for going on the run with a group of boys. Molly is young, but while she might be a little on the fearful side, she knows how to step up to the plate when she needs to. Cricket’s a good sidekick and willing to take chances if he needs to; he’s loyal to Heath and the boys share a friendship that comes through on a number of occasions. And there are other characters in the supporting roles that define this rather colorful ragtag bunch. The story starts, at least with their account of going to camp, but as the story progresses forward – not everything is harmonious about Camp Harmony.
Especially when the creatures start to go crazy. It starts with wolves, moves to a furious porcupine who appears to have what people think is rabies, and then all heck breaks loose. Suffice to say, the kids end up trapped. No adults, very little supplies, Very little time to figure out what to do.
“Frenzy” does an excellent job of keeping the harrowing encounters coming fast among the group as they clash with the animals keeping them on the run. It manages to do so not just with heavy costs in the mix, but also by building a good rapport with the characters and even giving humor in spot on points through the narrative. Granted, some of the humor may be cheese, but I was surprised by how fun the narrative came across, even through its darker moments. It builds upon the place details well to set the stage for the story and ultimately each place where the characters move through goal-wise. I thought there were parts where the pacing struggled a little, but usually it would pick up after a time and then bulldoze its way to more harrowing moments and revelations with the characters.
I was also surprised by how well the character development/definition came across. Even as there were moments that I wanted to throttle the characters (I.e. Will, but judging from the way the other characters reacted around him, I wasn’t the only one!), I still ended up understanding their motivations, even sympathizing with them as they adapted to their respective situations and each other. Not very much romance to speak of in this novel either – it mostly focuses on the rolling action, the suspense/thriller/chase of the group fleeing the animals and deciding what to do when they hit a group that doesn’t agree with them.
I’ll admit I didn’t see the revelation over Heath’s decision/condition until it hit, and that gutted me – making it more amazing that he was able to do all these things in the group in the heat of the moment and also speaking towards his push for survival. He stepped up in many ways through the story from beginning to end, and it was cool that he was as self aware as he was to be able to act and react when one challenge presented itself after another.
And character deaths? As I mentioned, some of the ones featured in here hit hard for emotional impact. When the story starts, there are some that go in passing, but aren’t unrecognized, but as the group becomes more centralized and there are fewer to follow, they have more considerable weight. The kids really go through a lot, and you can get that impression through the novel as they push towards what they believe is the route to safety, and also discover more than they bargained for in terms of the cause of the animals turning towards what they dub the “Flash.”
Overall, this is a novel that really impressed me and kept me on my toes the whole time I read it, and I really enjoyed not just the eerie and harrowing aspects, but I also had a good laugh in many places in the narrative – with the rapport of the characters, the bit humor, and even some of the twisted camp songs that peppered through the chapters of the work. I think Lettrick hits the genre and appeal of it spot on, and I can’t wait to read more of what he has to offer if “Frenzy” is any indication.
Overall score: 5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Disney-Hyperion.