"The Order of the Poison Oak"
(Reviewed by Josh Aterovis DEC 12, 2005)
"Yeah, yeah, sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me. First of all, anyone who thinks words can’t hurt you has obviously never taken sophomore P.E. And second, did it ever occur to whoever wrote that stupid adage that hurtful words might be a pretty good indication that sticks and stones are on the way? It's not like it's an either or thing."
Russel Middlebrook can't wait for summer to arrive. Ever since he came out at school, life has been a living hell. He just wishes he could get away to someplace where nobody knows he's gay. So when Gunnar, one of his best friends, tells him about his summer job as a camp counselor, Russ signs on as well. He's thrilled when their other best friend, Min, becomes a counselor as well. He's sure the three of them will have a magical summer at the lake.
Everything is going well until his first group of campers arrives and he finds himself with a cabin full of ten-year-old burn survivors. He wants to feel sorry for them, but their wild antics won't allow it. It seems like the more he tries to exercise his authority, the more they misbehave -- and he has no idea how to regain control and earn their respect.
As if that isn't enough, Gunnar has decided that he's destined to never have a girlfriend so he might as well stop trying. He refuses to listen no matter how hard Russel tries to convince him that he's found the perfect girl for him. Then, there's Web Bastion, one of the most beautiful guys Russ has ever seen. The only problem is Min thinks so too -- and they're both going after him. Before long, neither of his friends are speaking to him, his campers are out of control, and there's a very real danger building on the other side of the lake.
The Order of the Poison Oak is Brent Hartinger's sequel to his best-selling young adult novel Geography Club. The book continues the story of Russel Middlebrook, an appealing and engaging protagonist. Once again, Hartinger really captures the feel of teenage life. His characters feel real. They aren't perfect. They make mistakes and they feel pain, but he doesn't let them get bogged down by their emotions. A witty barb is always waiting right around the corner.
I was especially impressed with his handling of the burn survivors, both the campers and fellow counselor Otto. This storyline could have easily become maudlin and sappy, but he kept it crisp and authentic.
Hartinger has proven himself a master in the YA genre, achieving mainstream success and many accolades. While his books are aimed primarily at a teen audience, kids of all ages will love his realistic and relatable tales of teenaged angst. Hartinger writes with a conversational flare -- you almost feel as if Russel himself is relating the story to you. At times, this wears a little thin, but over all it works well for the story. We need more books like this available for teens, both LGBT and straight.
If you enjoyed Geography Club, then The Order of the Poison Oak is a must-read. And if you haven't read Geography Club, what are you waiting for?
- Amazon readers rating: from 26 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Order of the Poison Oak at HarperCollins
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Geography Club (March 2003)
- The Last Chance Texaco (February 2004)
- The Order of the Poison Oak (March 2005)
- Grand & Humble (February 2006)
- Split Screen (February 2007)
- The Fifth Season
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- Official website for Brent Hartinger
- TeenReads.com interview with Brent Hartinger
- AfterEllen interview with Brent Hartinger
- Black Sheep Productions interview (by Josh Aterovis) with Brent Hartinger
- Debbie Michiko Florence interview with Brent Hartinger
- Reading Guide for Geography Club and Chapter Excerpt
- After Ellen review of The Geography Club
- Reading Guide for The Last Chance Texaco and Chapter Excerpt
- BookSlut review of The Order of the Poison Oak
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About the Author:
Brent Hartinger grew up in Tacoma, Washington. He has been writing books for fifteen years, but didn't sell any of them until the summer of 2001. Since then, he has sold nine novels. Seven are aimed at teenagers and adults and two are fantasy novels.
Hartinger's book honors include being named a Book Sense 76 Pick (twice), a IRA Notable Book, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, a Booklist Top Ten First Young Adult Novel, a ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, winner of the SCBWI/Judy Blume Grant for a Contemporary Young Adult Novel, and an InsightOut (Bookspan) Book Club Main Selection.
Also a playwright, Hartinger has seen his work produced at theaters across the country, including Off-Off Broadway at Wings Theatre in New York. His play version of his novel GEOGRAPHY CLUB premiered at Seattle's FringeACT Festival of New Plays in 2004.
As a screenwriter, he has won many awards, including the $5000 Fort Lauderdale Film Festival Screenwriting in the Sun Award. He has several scripts under option and in the process of studio or network development.
Hartinger speaks frequently on the subjects of writing, social tolerance, and personal motivation, at schools, bookstores, conferences, churches, and civic groups; he appeared at 60 such events last year. He has counseled dozens of teenagers, both as co-facilitator of Oasis, a 200-member gay teen support organization he helped found, and as a counselor at a group home for troubled young people. He is currently spearheading The Real Story, an online and print safer sex campaign aimed at gay male teens and twentysomethings.
He and his partner Michael Jensen live in Tacoma, Washington.