My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Published: April 24th, 2018
Publisher: First Second Books
Recommended Age: 10+
Genres & Themes: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel, Summer Camps, Loneliness, Mean Girls
A gripping and hilarious middle-grade summer camp memoir from the author of Anya’s Ghost. All Vera wants to do is fit in—but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range—Russian summer camp. Vera is sure she’s found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the “cool girl” drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares!
Some stories… don’t need to be told.
First of all, although this is marketed as a graphic ‘‘memoir,’’ the author admits in her note that
a lot of the some stuff in this book is made up, so… not true.
Why would you even write a memoir if you’re not going to be completely honest or fully aware of the memories you’re featuring? The author says she simply couldn’t remember all that well her experience at camp when she was young. In that case, write about something that you DO know. Don’t exaggerate.
My heart and I couldn’t connect and couldn’t sympathize.
Vera is begging her mom to send her to a Russian camp, since she feels it’s the only place where she’s going to feel comfortable, seeing that she doesn’t fit in with the American girls. This ‘‘lack of connection’’ to American culture and inability to ‘‘fit in’’ is only addressed at the beginning of the tale and… never again.
So anyway, Vera and her brother go to camp. For Vera, it’s an awful experience from the start: there are mean girls, disgusting toilets, mean boys, depressing activities (or that’s how Vera makes them look) and religious and patriotic stuff as well that underwhelm her.
This is supposedly a ‘‘hilarious’’ story. Yeah, right. I certainly expected it to contain humour and entertain me but, instead, it made me feel… bad. Not bad for Vera, but bad inside at all the cruelty and jealousy and lying in the book. I don’t even want to send my fictional or future children to camp based on what I just read. Also, I went to day camp ten years ago, and while I understand that it’s not the same, so much of the content here seems out of proportion.
Vera is a girl who is easily influenced by her peers, so when the ‘‘cool girls’’ make fun of people… so does she. And when the cool girls try to take advantage of her… she lets them. I mean, these things happen in real life, too, but if they’re not explored, in the sense that if the author doesn’t make it clear that this is the wrong situation to be in and the wrong reaction to it, there isn’t much to learn from it. Vera’s camp counsellor helps her figure one or two things out, but it’s as though the author is expecting the reader to realize on their own what is accepted between ‘‘friends,’’ and what isn’t.
And once again, nothing, NOTHING, about this book is hilarious. Vera’s art is cute, of course, no surprise there. But boy oh boy do I not agree with the way the author developed this story, especially since it ends on a cliffhanger. I need to say this, so perhaps cover your eyes: That was a stupid decision on the author’s part. Who ends a graphic ‘‘memoir’’ on a cliffhanger? I’m assuming there will be a ‘‘sequel’’ to this partly made up memoir? That I will not read?
To go back to how judgemental Vera is, she says things like, ‘‘It felt strangely good to see someone else suffer a little,’’ and, ‘‘Geez. He was embarrassing to watch. Crying in front of everyone,’’ and it’s not like she feels bad about saying those things.
Can’t you have a little more compassion, especially since you know what it’s like for people to judge you relentlessly?
I don’t recommend this book, and I certainly don’t recommend it to kids. They need to be aware that there is ugliness in the world, but they must also learn how to deal with it, and this book is no teaching tool.
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