Camp Prodigy by Caroline Palmer

A graphic novel about viola players, whaaaaaaat!

Haha, sorry, as an orchestra cellist, it’s always fun for me to read about underrepresented instruments and their players. Perhaps more importantly, this Middle Grade comic is about two nonbinary teenagers who meet at the title summer camp, which has the no-pressure name of Camp Prodigy, lol. There they learn how to navigate and confront the challenges of putting way more pressure on themselves than necessary, whether it comes to music or pretending that everything is okay for the benefit of the people around them.

Our two main protagonists are Tate Seong and Eli Violet, who sorta meet backstage at a concert one day before meeting for real a year plus later at Camp Prodigy. Tate was actually inspired to take up the viola after hearing Eli play backstage that evening, but hasn’t really progressed via school instruction since. After being discouraged from performing in the school concert, Tate is feeling pretty down about music — not to mention their inability to come out about not being a boy to their family and friends — so is thrilled when their parents suggest sending them away to a summer camp for music students of all abilities. They’re not great at the viola but they’re ready to learn, and they look forward to camp.

Eli, on the other hand, is an accomplished violist who was set to embark on a professional career when they unexpectedly backed out of their solo debut. Now they’re trying to regain the joy of just playing, while perhaps rebuilding their confidence in their abilities. As Tate and Eli become friends, Eli tutors Tate on how to play properly as well as how to open up to the people around them. Tate, meanwhile, slowly encourages Eli to stop placing so much unnecessary pressure on themself to be extraordinary. They both learn a valuable lesson from their fellow campers about just hanging out and having fun instead of focusing on music 24/7.

I super loved the music camp scenes, with the diversity of students not only in appearance but also in temperament. Hannah might be my favorite because she’s exactly the kind of overachiever I am, despite us focusing on completely different instruments. And I really loved how the beauty and joy of playing music is never allowed to be drowned out by the drama of musical rivalries, tho the latter are also very realistically depicted.

But the best thing about this book was the wonderful representation it gives to non-binary kids, showing both how they’re different from other kids but also very much the same. The musical backdrop underscores the fact that non-binary people exist everywhere, in every field. The choice to have both protagonists be non-binary was also excellent. There may be fewer non-binary kids in the world than other genders, but that doesn’t mean that having just one in a story is enough. Having both take center stage makes it clear that their stories are just as important and diverse as anybody else’s.

I also wanted to say that I really liked the interior art, especially the color selections, textures and musical depictions. I do think it’s a weird trend in a lot of recent graphic novels aimed at younger audiences to have very awkward-looking covers that only barely hint at the expressiveness inside. The presentation otherwise of this book is great, making it a nice solid volume to hand to my eldest kid as he complains about being bored already on summer vacation.

Camp Prodigy by Caroline Palmer was published June 11 2024 by Atheneum Books For Young Readers and is available from all good booksellers, including

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