Thursday, December 3, 2015

Review - Lumberjanes: Friendship to the Max by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen

Short review: Jo, April, Molly, Mal, and Ripley set about solving all of the mysteries raised in the previous book, and this time Jen decides to come along for the ride. There may be a few mythological beings involved.

Five lady campers
Two mythological twins
And cosmic power

Full review: Lumberjanes: Friendship to the Max picks up right where the previous volume, Beware the Kitten Holy, left off. This volume isn't so much a sequel to the first one, as it is the second half of a complete story. My understanding is that the series was originally conceived of as an eight-part limited series, and as the first volume had four parts, and this one has the last four, the fact that they make up a single unified story arc is unsurprising. In large part, this volume is very much like the first: The five campers of Roanoke cabin at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types continue their summer sojourn in the woods, punctuated by odd paranormal incidents and enigmatic mysteries.

As with the previous volume, each segment of Friendship to the Max starts off with a section of text from the fictional guide book titled the Lumberjanes Field Manual detailing the skills needed and the specific requirements that must be accomplished to earn a particular Lumberjanes badge. Inevitably, the badge discussed on this opening page proves to be related to the story that follows, although in ways that are pretty much unexpected, as nothing every seems to proceed "normally" for Jo, April, Molly, Mal, and Ripley. The four badges in this volume are "Friendship to the Craft", "Jail Break", "Friendship to the Max", and "Space Jamborie", and the stories contained in them are as varied and enjoyable as they sound. One wrinkle in this volume is that Roanoke cabin's scout-leader Jen eventually decides that rather than trying to keep her charges from adventure, she wants to join in. Before that, however, she is unexpectedly handed more responsibility as the camp director Rosie heads off on a mysterious errand and Jen responds by trying to come up with the safest possible camp activity she can think of. This effort, of course, goes horribly wrong, and the camp is overrun by velociraptors in short order, leading to chaos and the appearance of the bear woman who was the object of the girls' quarry back on the very first pages of the story in Beware the Kitten Holy.

The interesting development when the bear woman does appear is that she immediately corrals Jo and begins accusing her of hiding a secret while warning of ancient evil and impending doom. Of course, because their slogan is "Friendship to the Max!", Jo's friends rally to her side, as does Rosie when she returns, warning the bear lady to stay away from her girls. The critical element in this sequence is that Jo kind of is hiding some information, and Rosie's firm commitment to including her as one of her girls is a statement that has a fair amount of significance, although that significance may not be readily apparent to the reader at this juncture.

The primary difference between this installment of Lumberjanes and the previous one is that this volume is mostly about solving mysteries as opposed to setting them up. In Beware the Kitten Holy, the campers of Roanoke cabin spent most of the story encountering odd events and trying to figure out what they meant, with several plot threads left open at the close of the book. In Friendship to the Max, our intrepid gang spends most of its pages solving the riddles posed by the first book. There are certainly some new puzzles posed in this volume, mostly relating to the girls' somewhat quirky fellow camper Diana, but those are resolved fairly shortly after they crop up. The dominant theme in this volume is resolution, and by the end of the book, all of the notable plot threads raised in both the previous book and this one have been tied up quite nicely.

And the girls make solving the various mysteries presented by the collection of supernatural events that have taken place seem like quite a bit of fun. They still adorably use a collection of historical references as exclamations, such as "For the love of Sister Rosetta Tharpe." or "What in the Annie Smith Peck happened?" Camp director Rosie still gets Jen's name wrong almost every time they talk, to Jen's continual frustration. And a lot of the humor grows out of the bizarre situations, such as when Jen jumps in between a velociraptor and Jo, intended to protect her camper, she is almost immediately at a loss. When Jo asks Jen if she had a plan, Jen replies "I THOUGHT ADRENALINE WOULD TAKE OVER BUT IT DID NOT". Or when Ripley unleashes a swarm of giant insect, and everyone is running away from them, when Jo complains that Diana didn't warn them about a security system, Diana replies "NOW IS HARDLY THE TIME FOR THE BLAME GAME". These sorts of asides are the fabric on which the story is built, and they are woven into the journey organically, making it silly and funny without slowing down the pace of the action. When the adventure leads the girls back to the cavern they encountered in the first volume of the series, Diana seems quite surprised and a little bit annoyed that almost all of the puzzles have been solved and virtually all of the traps have been disarmed. And of course, when Ripley winds up with cosmic levels of power, she uses it to wish for silly hats for a raccoon and kittens for everyone, as well as making what can only be described as a surprising and absolutely correct choice.

Among the surprise dinosaurs, the teleporting camp denizens, the strange glowing artifacts, the intramural game of capture the flag, or the sneaking out of camp in the middle of the night, the core of the story is the tight knit and nigh-unbreakable friendship between the girls of Roanoke cabin. Time and again they pull together to help one of their number out of a jam or solve a problem that confronts them. In contrast, both Diana and her brother, who turns out to have been enmeshed in the events at the Mr. Theodore Tarquin Reginald Lancelot Herman Crumpo Camp for Boys, pursue solitary goals. Although Diana is willing to work alongside Jo, April, Molly, Mal, and Ripley so long as it suits her purposes, she is clearly playing a game in which she envisions herself as the sole victor. The girls, on the other hand, are in their adventure together, refusing to even consider abandoning one of their own, standing up against even the most formidable foe to protect their friends, and generally doing the sorts of things that friends do for one another. The line "Friendship to the Max" is not merely a slogan to these women, it is a way of life.

Lumberjanes: Friendship to the Max is a lovely follow-on to Beware the Kitten Holy. The volume takes all of the plot threads opened up in the previous one, adds a couple more to the mix to spice things up, and then wraps all of the action up with a humorous, very satisfying, and very Lumberjanes-like finish (followed by a rather unusual, but not entirely unexpected parental visit). Full of fun adventure, cute and witty banter, and wonderful characters the entire book is simply delightful to read and caps off the first Lumberjanes story in an absolutely brilliant fashion.

Previous volume in the series: Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy

Potential 2016 Hugo Nominees

Noelle Stevenson     Grace Ellis    Brooke Allen     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

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