March 26, 2014

The Blunder Games: a review of Jeff Strand's "I Have a Bad Feeling About This"

I Have a Bad Feeling About This
by Jeff Strand
Source Books/Fire (2014)
256 pages
ISBN 1402284551

I never got to go to any kind of summer camp in the woods when I was a boy. Maybe that's because I practically grew up in the woods, so it would have been kind of redundant. Reading Jeff Strand's I Have a Bad Feeling About This, I wonder if I would have wound up in the "wuss" category that Henry Lambert finds himself in--by decree of his own father no less.

Henry is meek and mild, to the point even that he makes Clark Kent look like Bill O'Reilly. He's sixteen with one real friend in school who is way more psyched about spending a week in the woods to test his burgeoning manliness. There's not a lot he could do to get out of it though, and even less to escape it once he realizes the camp is a little less impressive than advertised. The accommodations are rustic to say the least, and the counselor is about as congenial as Bill O'Reilly when someone messes with his teleprompter--too many O'Reilly references? I'll stop, I swear.

Anyway, it's not all bad for Henry. He's getting better at archery, in so much that he isn't missing by so great a distance any longer, plus he made a new friend while sleeping outside as punishment, a very cute friend from a neighboring camp. But things turn dangerous before long, even more dangerous than teaching clutzy kids how to handle firearms, when a trio of gangsters show up looking for the counselor whom they believe owes a great deal of money.

Jeff Strand writes this fast-paced novel with the quippy forthrightness that you might expect from an angst-ridden and terminally awkward teen boy. The humor permeates through every paragraph, but there are moments where it goes one punchline too many. Some of the jokes are meant to be bad, so there you go. Henry's brain--since it's his story for the vast majority of the novel--is a hornet's nest of hypochondria. One sentence barely finishes before he's worrying about something else in the next. If you find that kind of narrative hard to take at the beginning, it isn't going to go any easier for you for the rest of the story.

If you have a soft spot in your soul for those old 80s movies like Meatballs or Revenge of the Nerds and Adventures in Babysitting, I'm guessing you'll find a fair bit to enjoy with I Have a Bad Feeling About This.

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