Saturday, May 12, 2018

Book Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

I loved summer camp. Really loved it. Now, I only went to sleep away camp once, briefly, but day camp was terrific. And I went to early care and after care (my parents worked after all) and so I was there about 10 hours a day, and it was great. In fact, I've even been known to say that it saved my life as I was being bullied really hard at school, but the fact that I was popular (but not in a bad way!) and had lots of friends over the summer told me the problem was them, not me. In Be Prepared, Vera has this same idea. She doesn't fit in at school, as she has an accent and brings weird food and doesn't dress like the other girls. She hears about this Russian summer camp, and not only does she think this will finally be the place where she fits in, but it's affordable, and her mother is also thrilled with the idea since having the kids away for the summer will allow her to start a new job unencumbered and get some other things dealt with that are hard as a single mom.

So Vera and her little brother head off to camp and... it's nothing like she expected. There are cool girls here too, no amenities, long daily lessons about Russia, in Russian, and she's just as unpopular and miserable as she is at school, although maybe it's actually worse. Her little brother makes friends immediately, while Vera is scorned by the older, popular girls in her tent. There are lots of rules and expectations she didn't know about, coming here. And the summer looks like it's going to be utterly miserable.

Graphic novels can often seem quite short, but this one certainly conveyed the feeling that this was a long summer, made to feel even longer by the miserableness of Vera's experience. I really felt like my old memories of summers when I was a kid that seemed ssssooooooo long. A three week session at camp seemed like forever. And this summer is in the end redeemed. Vera has a good counselor, who, while she probably could have been more proactive, gives Vera good advice that eventually she follows, and she does make a friend towards the end, and the cool girls actually aren't all that cool really when you get to know them. This would be a fantastic companion piece to Real Friends as it shares a lot of the same themes, but in a summer camp setting instead of school, and also with the added not-fitting-in of a second-generation girl who doesn't feel wholly American. Poor Vera--this is based on her own experiences as a preteen, so like Real Friends, it's also basically a memoir. And the realism of her feelings really comes through.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

This book is published by First Second, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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