Review by Ian Keogh
The summer camp is a ritual either endured or embraced by tens of thousands of American children every year. Is it the place to renew acquaintances, make new friends and wallow in nature, or is it six weeks of unrelenting torture? For Hope Larson’s lead character Abby it’s veering toward something to be tolerated rather than enjoyed. Petty jealousies and social snobbery based on the superiority of making others feel deficient are as present in summer camp as at school. Individuality or perceived lesser circumstances results in instant judgements and another demotion down the popularity scale, and pity the person showing any form of fear.
Presumably Larson’s channelling some of her own past disappointments through Abby as she skims through the summer season. Abby is torn between the honesty of supporting new camper Shasta and desperately wanting to be accepted by the more popular girls, not old enough to realise that as long as they’re so superficial and judgemental she’ll always be a victim.
Chiggers is largely well drawn, providing the environment and feelings, but differentiating the cast is an artistic weakness. Everyone has the same big-eyed face, and minor variations in hair styling aren’t always enough to distinguish between cast members.
Larson’s title is provided by the name campers apply to a form of tick that burrows under the skin, the entirely random and unfortunate occurrence another reason to ostracise someone. It’s barely mentioned inside, although does prompt a nice illustration of the tick. Chiggers, though, takes a long time to develop into something interesting. We sympathise with Abby’s struggle between behaving decently and wanting to score popularity points, and she’s eventually rewarded for that, but there’s little life until a scene near the end extrapolating on something Shasta mentions when introduced. That noted, it’s very likely teenage girls reading Chiggers will empathise much more with Abby’s struggles and won’t see the story as commonplace.