Facing the Beast Within
by Mark Cheverton
Genre: Middle Grade / Fantasy
Print Length: 208 pages
Reviewed by Audrey Davis
An earnest reminder of courage and honesty
Cameron Poole, an apprehensive sixth grader at Camp Pontchartrain, struggles to fend off bullies while staying ahead of his own anxiety and negative thoughts. He and his friends find themselves mocked daily, which only adds to the nerves and feelings of disappointment.
To make matters worse, supernatural creatures from a parallel dimension start appearing, and Cameron finds himself physically and mentally fighting new forces alongside friends, both new and old, as they attempt to save their summer camp from the clutches of evil.
“‘Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They’re just braver five minutes longer.’ […] You think you can be brave for five more minutes?”
Mark Cheverton paints a landscape of magic, distress, friendship, and strife in Facing the Beast Within: The Anxiety of Cameron Poole. As the first of a new series, it’s an exciting burst onto a new scene; it kept me on the edge of my seat with uncertainty and begs for more installments—soon!
The characters are honest and comical at times. Readers will enjoy watching Cameron and his friends grow through their experiences and creativity while striving to help those around them in the process.
It is refreshing to see the characters developing and learning about themselves alongside each other, as kids at summer camp normally might, as opposed to self-contained discoveries. Each character has their own motivations for which camp concentration they’ve chosen and their own brief background, and each is important to the plot. When they all find themselves abruptly thrown into the midst of conflict, they must step up to the challenge in their own way.
“Everyone needs friends, and the funny thing about friendship is, you can get it whether you like it or not.”
In addition to the fast-paced plot, Cheverton uses Cameron’s anxiety to demonstrate some tried-and-true coping methods from psychologists. This includes breathing exercises and many different mental distraction activities. I was pleased that the presence of these methods did not detract from the overall story; rather, including these in the book not only provides them as tools for kids and pre-teens to use in daily life, but it also offers visibility, inclusion, and normalization of these issues and coping methods.
I also like the distinction made between the version of fear anxiety creates and actual fear. Anxiety is an issue many people deal with, and it is important to teach healthy ways of managing one’s own thoughts.
“There’s always a choice. All of us can decide who we want to be and how we want to be seen by others. The trick is having the courage to make that choice.”
I would happily recommend this book to young fantasy fans, especially those who may be doubting themselves or their abilities. A clear message and healthy coping habits on top of a fun story make this book a good teaching tool, both as class reading or independently; young readers can engage with the story in more ways than one.
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