The Order of the Poison Oak Continues A Successful YA Series
After discovering that Brent Hartinger continued Russel Middlebrook’s story post-The Geography Club, I was intrigued where the story would go. Russel was an interesting character at the start of the series; his sardonic humor kept me entertained as he made several comparisons of himself to Saint Peter when he taunted the most unpopular kid several times. The introduction to the series mirrored reality: intolerance for anyone different, and how horrific teenagers can be.
The Order of the Poison Oak takes place not long after the first book. Russel is still being targeted for being gay, with a student pushing him in the hallway and calling him a “faggot.” Gunnar, one of Russel’s best friends, asks him to attend a summer camp to be a counselor. Tired of his surroundings and treatment in his small town, Russel agrees and finds his other best friend, Min, who also signed up to be a camp counselor. When the trio arrives at Camp Serenity, they also find one of the camp’s attractive counselors, Web. Min and Russel are immediately drawn to him and initiate a fierce but unspoken competition to win Web.
The first group of children to arrive is burn survivors – the camp refuses to say they are victims but rather, calls them survivors – and Russel decides he has an unruly group of young boys to look after. Declaring them brats to a fellow counselor, Otto who is a burn survivor himself tells Russel to treat them like they are – people. Russel tries to gain trust with his group of children by taking them to a big old oak tree, coincidentally around a poison oak patch. After telling the children about the rainbow crow, a Native American legend from the Lenape tribe, he inducts them as well as Otto into the eponymous book title, The Order of the Poison Oak. Ian, one of the children under Russel’s supervision, asks what his scars are since he is has no burn scars. “Psychological scars” is what Russel replies, with Ian figuring out Russel is gay and promising to keep it a secret. Aside from his troublesome troop, Russel also tries his hand at romance with consequences. After a scenario that endangers a few of the kids and counselors, the rest of the summer passes by without further incidents – aside from terrible children and summer love.
Brent Hartinger continues the Russel Middlebrook series with great success. It not only has a tale of queer life, but also adds a new level excitement that doesn’t stick to just a different lifestyle. Poison Oak is a real page turner that will have you relating to Russel’s character and confusion over his summer life. Expect a great read from Hartinger as he continues one boy’s life.
Read an excerpt of The Order of the Poison Oak here.
Highlights / Spoiler Alerts
The saddest moment of the book is when Russel is on good terms with his troop, and they enter the camp store but older teenagers are there. Upon leaving, one of the older boys calls them “freaks.” Russel is angry but silent, and the kids notice and resort to their bad behavior once again.
Russel finally sees that Otto is a regular person underneath his scar while Otto is singing” “Is it okay if I need you tonight? / Thought I’d check and see if it’s all right / Cause the stars seem sort of far away / The night is rather dark / Is it okay if I need you tonight?” [p. 52].
I originally believed the Rainbow Crow was made up for the book, but it’s a legend from the Lenape. The legend goes that the world was cold and Rainbow Crow was chosen to meet the Creator who ignored him until Rainbow Crow sang beautifully. The Crow asked to make the world warm again, but the Creator couldn’t. Instead he gave Rainbow Crow a stick burning and to carry it back. On his flight, ashes began blackening his feathers and the smoke made Rainbow Crow’s voice hoarse. To honor Crow’s sacrifice, hunters and animals never hunt Crow.