Front Country

By Sara St. Antoine. Chronicle Books, 2022. 332 pages. $17.99/hardcover; $11.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Have you ever been reading a book and thought, how are they going to get out of this?, and then, what else could possibly go wrong? At the end of the book, you find most of the loose ends have been tied up by using bits of information scattered like bread crumbs along the way. Front Country is that kind of page-turner.

For our narrator Ginny, a climate change rant by her eighth-grade science teacher leads to an epiphany that changes her life. Her new awareness of the peril faced by our planet causes her to re-evaluate her competitive spirit. She drops out of tennis, lets her grades fall below straight As, and cuts school to attend a climate change rally in Boston, Mass. Here we get the only direct Quaker reference: the demonstrators are gathered around the statue of Mary Dyer, whose importance is explained to Ginny by a group of high school students from Vermont.

Ginny’s parents respond to her sudden change in behavior with punitive measures that don’t work. As an alternative, they offer a backcountry adventure program called TrackFinders in the Rocky Mountain wilderness. Ginny jumps at the chance with the hope of seeing cute, little mammals called pikas whose high-altitude environment is threatened by climate change. TrackFinders is not the program she expected.

During the next four weeks, we experience the camping trip through Ginny’s eyes. The other five campers, all boys, have come from the front country (the real world) with their own issues. While the adult counselors, one male and one female, are experienced wilderness campers, they are not therapists. They are competent and prepared at guiding teens through experiences in self-discovery, but the chemistry among these campers is challenging. Things go wrong, get corrected, then go wrong again. Ginny finds a rocky slope inhabited by pikas and learns the value of quiet observation. They meet a field biologist researching lichens who shares her insights on interdependence. It takes the disappearance of one camper and a medical emergency to inspire cooperation among the remaining five. They all come out alive and changed.

Quaker-ish elements in this insightful drama are the patience and resourcefulness of the counselors, and the uses of silence in relationships. The variety of young teen personalities and the engaging activities remind us of our own Quaker summer camp experiences. We recommend this book to seventh, eighth, and ninth graders. As adults, we found this book a little slow at the beginning but then hard to put down.

Tom and Sandy Farley are members of Palo Alto (Calif.) Meeting, storytellers, volunteer booksellers with EarthLight, and coauthors of the Earthcare for Children curriculum. They have served on youth program staff at Quaker meetings, camps, and conferences.

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