Review: Camp by Elaine Wolf

Title: Camp

Author: Elaine Wolf

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Interest: Bullying / Mother-Daughter Relationship

Release: June 15th, 2012

Source: Finished copy received from the author

Summary (From Goodreads): Going to sleepaway camp can be one of the most wonderful experiences for a young girl. But for Amy Becker, it’s a nightmare. Amy, whose home life is in turmoil, is sent away to summer camp for the first time as a teenager. Though she swears she hates her mother, who is unduly harsh with Amy’s autistic younger brother, Amy is less than thrilled to be leaving home. When she arrives at camp, she is subjected to a horrifying initiation and bullying by Rory, the ringleader of the girls in her cabin. Then a cousin reveals dark secrets about Amy s mother, setting in motion a tragic event that changes Amy and her family forever.

CAMP is a compelling coming-of-age novel about bullying, mothers and daughters, and the collateral damage of family secrets. It’s a powerful mother-daughter story for mothers and daughters to share.

Camp by Elaine Wolf is a quiet book that will resonate with many readers.  It’s a fast read; I read it within a couple hours of starting it.  The story keeps a steady pace and held my interest from beginning to end.

Amy Becker doesn’t have a cozy life at home, at least when it comes to her mother.  From the very beginning of the book, Amy’s mother struck me as cold and distant.  Amy does, however, have a very close relationship with her brother who, even though it’s not stated, I believe has autism.  Her father tries to be loving and involved, which is why he signs Amy up for summer camp, but he can’t always do this completely since he’s often “siding” with Amy’s mother.  It’s a tense atmosphere in the Becker home.  Amy’s mother isn’t thrilled about Amy attending summer camp because her husband’s brother is running it.  This raised my first red flag because her reaction wasn’t typical; it was quite guarded and cautious.  Despite all of this, Amy doesn’t want to attend camp, mostly because she worries about her brother.

Poor Amy is at a disadvantage as soon as she gets to the bus leaving for camp.  Her aunt and uncle sent a list of things to bring, and it said nothing about clothes from home, so she’s in her camp uniform.  Lots of giggling from other campers ensues.  At this point in Camp, the reader gets to see more of Amy’s insecurities.  Amy’s mother is very concerned about appearances, so it was considered appropriate that Amy attend camp appropriately.  For a girl who didn’t want to attend camp in the first place, this is a horrible way to start that experience.  On the bus ride to camp, quite a bit of foreshadowing is included to give us an idea of the bullying Amy’s going to face.

The bullying in Camp is a prominent theme in Elaine Wolf’s novel, but it wasn’t the primary focus because all of it ties to Amy’s relationship with her mother.  It is important to note, however, that the majority of Camp takes place during Amy’s stay at summer camp and how she deals with Rory.  There were so many times while reading that I became angry because of what Amy goes through.  It was a good kind of angry though because my feelings were a direct response to the story.  Rory has some serious and disturbing issues which influence her actions.  On the other hand, I just wanted Amy to get a backbone and stand up for herself.  This is where her relationship with her mother ties in.  Amy’s “bullied” by her mother on a regular basis.  Her mother fixates on Amy’s appearance and weight.  She makes comments about Amy needing to lose weight, especially if she wants boys to pay attention to her.  Amy feels like she can’t do anything to make her mother happy, and almost the entire time she’s at camp she’s “hearing” her mother’s criticisms and judgments.  How can Amy possibly stand up to Rory when she can’t stand up to her mother?

Camp becomes more complex as serious family secrets are revealed, mainly about Amy’s mother.  We get more insight to her background and why she’s so cold.  The only problem I had with this, is that many of the major secrets are revealed at the end of the book.  I know, it makes sense for secrets to be revealed at the end, but the way they were revealed didn’t work for me.  Without spoiling the book, something goes on with Amy’s mother and the Beckers which instigates the revelations.  It felt like this portion of the book was rushed, or like some parts were added to the story for convenience (primarily regarding Amy’s mother).  These are my only qualms with Camp.

Camp by Elaine Wolf is definitely a book that should be read and discussed.  It’s intense, surprising, and chock full of emotion.  It could easily be added to units on bullying and/or familial relationships.

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