“We’re Number Two!” chant the returning denizens of Camp Avalon, affectionately nicknamed Camp Average for its notable lack of sporting prowess.
Little do they know that changes are afoot: this summer there’s a new director, Winston, whose plans to improve Avalon’s athletic standing involve healthier fare in the mess hall, aptitude testing, and an end to non-competitive activities – including 11-year-old protagonist Mack’s beloved water sports.
Mack promptly devises a counterattack: convince his teammates to tank their games by playing so poorly that Winston will be forced to abandon the new regime. The tactic backfires, with Winston assigning more practices before introducing a full-on boot camp. Advice from a conveniently placed senior camper sets Mack and his comrades on the right course.
Author Craig Battle (former editor of Owl magazine, now an editor at Sportsnet.ca) knows his audience and his sports, but the quality of his writing can be patchy and clichés proliferate (the geek wears glasses with thick black frames; in tense moments, jaws “clench” and “things get personal”). That said, the athletic scenes are energetic and satisfying. And Battle has a good ear for the banter of 11-year-old boys – not to mention their taste for timeless pranks, from taking turns piling dirty socks on a sleeping counsellor’s head to dipping a slumbering camper’s hand in a cup of water.
Battle also astutely captures the subtle gradations of camp cultures. A rival institution is described as a cross “between a country club and a spring-training facility,” and one senses the author’s refreshing skepticism of pushy programming and premature specialization.
The narrative comes to life in the final four chapters covering a make-or-break game (readers will need to be reasonably familiar with the rules of baseball to truly appreciate this part). Battle’s well-worn plot line doesn’t diverge greatly from a Mighty Ducks or Bad News Bears template, but the ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel, which may contain more surprises.