By Gordon Korman
Not gonna lie, I picked this up because there was a cute little lizard on the cover holding a power cord in its mouth.
Jett Baranov is the son of the emperor of the technological world. Well, not really. But his father owns a technology company that’s bigger than Google and Apple combined. His mother works as a famous orthodontist for Orthodontists Without Borders and is often out of the country. With a mostly absent mother, a work-obsessed father, and more money at his disposal than the GDP of most third-world countries, no one is too terribly surprised when he is named Silicon Valley’s Number One Spoiled Brat. Jett has pulled some impressive stunts that have cost his father a lot of money, and so he is sent off to the wilds of Arkansas for six weeks to The Oasis of Mind and Body Wellness. The number one rule at The Oasis? No technology. Of any kind. Jett is forced to hand over his phone, tablet, laptop, and smartwatch upon arrival. For a kid raised with the best technology always at hand, it’s like having limbs removed.
Jett is not alone in his exile. He has Matt, his keeper, who is employed by his father to try to keep Jett out of trouble. He does not always succeed. At the camp, he meets Grace, who is all about the goals of the camp, Tyrell, who has been dragged there by his family but follows along, and Brooklynne, who is mysterious and standoffish at first. We see the story from everyone’s perspective at some point (plus one other for a chapter or two.) There is also Magnus, the leader and founder of The Oasis, and Ivory, his second in command.
The story moves along with Jett absolutely refusing to play game with the others with this whole “wellness” crap. He doesn’t want to be there and he makes sure that everyone knows it. It infuriates Grace, who loves The Oasis and all that it stands for. Everything changes when Grace finds a baby lizard and decides to take care of it, which is against the “no pets” rule. Jett has something to focus on now, and something that bonds him together with some of the other kids. And as Jett gets more comfortable with his tech-free surroundings and fellow kids, he starts to notice some things that are a bit odd. And soon things become way more serious than Jett was expecting.
I think this is a very good middle grade read. It’s about making friends and trusting people, as well as solving mysteries. Listening to the audiobook, sometimes it felt a little off that Jett was supposed to only be twelve. Sometimes his actions felt right for his age group, but a lot of the time it seemed like he should be older. Pushing everyone’s ages to 16 or so in my head made everything feel a bit better. On the other hand, there are some situations that an older kid would have (hopefully) handled differently. There are some elements of the story that are a bit obvious to adults, but that’s okay. Kids haven’t experienced all of the tropes we have yet! There are some choices that are made that can be good talking points between kids and their adults. It’s definitely one that I’m planning on recommending to my young library patrons!
(This fulfills the 2021 CBR 13 Bingo square of “The Wilds.” An unplugged retreat in the middle of Arkansas is pretty much the wilderness.)