Troop 142
by Mike Dawson (Secret Acres, 2011)

What stands out about Mike Dawson's story about a bunch of boys during one week of summer camp is the honesty and humor. Quite searingly honest, actually, and quite nostalgically funny, though be warned: the humor is very adult-oriented. The art is wonderful, very uncomplicated and straightforward. Apart from that, however, I'm not exactly sure about the message.

Essentially, the Boy Scouts of Troop 142, in an attempt to get through an experience they clearly hate, treat one another in ways that range from hilarious to cruel. In spite of the presence of adults, the coarse language flows, the objectification of anything female is paramount and the denigration of any boy with slightly less athleticism than the others flows as fast as the stream that cuts through camp. It's very much a character-driven story about coming of age, with each boy representing nearly every possible personality, though they are really far more complex and layered than simplistic stereotypes. Dawson's intent is very clear: to show the very real ways boys interact and, from there, to allow readers to draw their own conclusions about how that process is carried forward into adulthood.

Dawson isn't afraid to tackle heavy subjects like latent homosexuality, hypocritical morality and religious issues. His theme is well-married to his story, his characterization is spot-on and his use of facial expression and body language is perfect. I truly feel the struggle that these boys and their adult minders are going through. Dawson draws a firm line underneath the preachiness of institutions and the way youth and inexperience can absorb ideological assumptions in all the wrong ways. The realism is there, and it's not just on the surface.

The hitch is the nature of the truth that's being revealed. It's a truth with density to it but building a story around it is like building a watch to tell the time. The best hook any story can have is to be original, which is where Troop 182 is sadly lacking. The knowledge is painful, but it's common knowledge. I didn't see anything I couldn't have seen just from looking at the world around me, and I didn't feel as though some previously opaque truths were being revealed to me. It's a decent story, and a funny one, but perhaps not as compelling as it could have been.

review by
Mary Harvey

17 November 2012

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