Poison Oak Summer by A.K.Dawson

poisonoakOn the cover it says Poison Oak Summer (Part One), which should have been the giveaway, I suppose. But as it is a novel, I imagined it was the full bit, the whole thing, the alpha to omega, so to speak. So I paid me seventy seven p, and waited till it hit the Kindle. The price, perhaps, should have been another clue.

Apart from a few reservations, I read it with a lot of pleasure. It’s a YA book, which always interests me, because I’ve written several of them myself, and I wonder, still, what YA’s make of them, and whether we older types have any hope of getting it right. That, of course, remains a mystery, but this book is set in a summer camp in America, has tough young men and smart young women, and is fast moving and a little spooky. I should think it has a very good chance of hitting the spot.

It’s a bit weird, too, from the very start. Our heroine, Lucy, is English and is dropped at the apparently empty camp out in the wilds of the San Francisco hinterland with no back-up, little luggage, and absolutely no welcoming committee. The ‘warden’ is an ageing hippy called Super Steve, and the place has an aura of loneliness and absolute abandon. The first two people of her own age she meets are an Australian who very quickly makes a pass at her, and an unpleasant girl called Shelly who sees her as a deadly rival.

Worst of all, before she’s even met the hippy, she has found a small, drowned boy in the river. A boy whose body cannot be found an hour later, and whose presence is disputed by Steve, then everyone. Lucy, afraid, sleeps in the woods, and picks up a fierce infection from contact with the leaves and branches of a poison oak.

The children begin to arrive next morning. Steve, welcoming them, makes it clear they have died and gone to heaven, in summer camp terms. There is only one rule, and that is that there are no rules. They can do what they like, engage in any activity, eat and drink entirely at their own desire. Lucy, feeling like an uptight English swot, begins to teeter on the edge of lost control.

She is vulnerable. She is recovering from the death of her lost love, David. Worse – she feels that she killed him herself, behind the wheel of his car the day she passed her driving test. Her grip of reality begins to fade. The continued mystery of the drowned boy gets worse. Until she spots him in the camp, alive and well, and laughing. Meanwhile the three little girls who are her exclusive charges are turning very nasty.

As I said, it’s gripping. The main problem is that it re-covers ground too many times to sustain the mystery, it needs at least another major twist. But when that comes it means you have to buy another book. The possible resolution to the main mystery leads on to another one. But we don’t get to see it.

It is, quite clearly, a deliberate marketing ploy, and at seventy seven pence a volume one can’t complain too much, even in these troubled times. But it was a bit annoying, and could well prove counter productive. Maybe it’s another YA thing, though. Teenagers love serials, let’s say. People love suspense. My trouble is, I’ve never even watched an episode of Eastenders.

Reviewed by Jan Needle

Available in Kindle format

Find out more about A K Dawson