Allison's Book Bag

Camp Utopia by Jenny Ruden

Posted on: January 23, 2015

The older I get, the more likely I am to stop reading a book with little appeal. Camp Utopia by Jenny Ruden fits that description for me. Despite its compassionate portrayal of an overweight teen trying to lose weight, other aspects of the book failed to work for me. The plot has contrivances, the characters don’t act nice, and the book is overly long.

The main storyline of sixteen-year-old Bethany who is sent to Camp Utopia, otherwise known as fat camp, holds potential. Unfortunately, contrivances get in the way of what otherwise could have been a plausible story: Bethany’s draft emails just happen to get accidentally sent; Her dad just happens to pick that moment, despite having ignored her for years, to take an interest; When faced with the decision of whether to run away from camp or stay, Bethany and her friend just happen to experience an earthquake that results in one of those “my life flashed before me” moments; When all other options of escape run out, Bethany just happens to receive an email from an one-time acquaintance who is willing to help out whatever way she can.

Anyone who has ever tried to change their weight, or any part of their appearance, will relate to Bethany’s struggles. Unfortunately, none of the characters including Bethany herself are all that likable. Bethany lies and steals without any apparent remorse. She also seems to hate everyone in her life, not that I completely blame her: Bethany’s mother can’t take the time to drive her to camp, but relegates the job to her sister; Bethany’s sister only accepts the task because she wants to go on a road trip, which means she has no patience for listening to her younger sister; The dad has long been out of the picture; And TJ acts like he cares, even signs a postcard with the word “love,” but then puts personal desires ahead of her.

As for the length of a book, that is actually relative. With substance, a book could be 600 pages and it would seem like 300. The problem is that Camp Utopia is 300 and probably should have been half that. Despite attempts to throw in a host of family issues, Camp Utopia feels like a romance novel about an overweight girl. There’s a whole lot of swooning and “woe-is-me” attitude but otherwise not a whole lot of action. I could accept the lack of substance if the novel were shorter, but as it is the novel feels bloated. The first really interesting moment doesn’t happen until around midway when those emails mysteriously get sent. By that point, I have sadly lost patience.

Admittedly, the last half of Camp Utopia contains more plot substance and reveals reasons for Bethany’s negativity. However, it’s also one of those “too little too late” scenarios. Ruden does have many writing credits to her name. I also admire Ruden for tackling the often overlooked population of overweight teens. Unfortunately, Camp Utopia isn’t the novel that will make me a fan.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?


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