BOOK TOUR REVIEW: Camp Utopia and the Forgiveness Diet by Jenny Ruden
Camp Utopia and the Forgiveness Diet
by Jenny Ruden
Sixteen-year-old Baltimore teen Bethany Stern knows the only way out of spending her summer at Camp Utopia, a fat camp in Northern California, is weight-loss. Desperate, she tries The Forgiveness Diet, the latest fad whose infomercial promises that all she has to do is forgive her deadbeat dad, her scandalous sister, and the teenage magician next door and (unrequited) love of her life. But when the diet fails and her camp nemesis delivers the ultimate blow, Bee bids sayonara to Camp-not-Utopian-at-all to begin what she believes will be her “real” summer adventure, only to learn that running away isn’t as easy—or as healing—as it seems.
Her wry and honest voice bring humor and poignancy for anyone, fat or thin, tired of hearing “you’d be so pretty if…[insert unwelcome judgment about your appearance from loved one or perfect stranger].”
MY THOUGHTS: 4 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
As a bigger girl myself, I knew I had to read about Bethany’s journey to fat camp. If I had a dollar for every time in my life I heard, “Well you’d be so pretty if you lost weight,” or, “You’re very beautiful for a big girl,”then I could have sent myself to fat camp. The main character, and I’m guessing by extension the author, knows exactly what it’s like to be in the same position. I identified so much with Bethany sometimes, it kind of scared me.
Bee knows she needs to lose weight, OK? Like, she totally gets it. She knows if she could just shed that roll around her belly, her mother wouldn’t hound her so much, her older sister might be nicer, and maybe she could nail down her best friend TJ. But she likes to eat. She doesn’t know how to do the whole weight loss thing the right way. So that’s why, even though she’s dreading it, Bethany makes the road trip to California to spend the summer at Camp Utopia.
Right off the bat, I couldn’t believe the way Bethany’s own family and friends talked to her. They would tell her to her face that she needed to lose weight (and in a rather rude manner), call her fat, and even worse insults. During the road trip, it actually really pissed me off that Bethany’s sister was letting her boyfriend be so cruel to Bee. I have two sisters, and though we may pick on each other, I dare someone else to say something inappropriate to one of us. It’s as if the author was trying to make a point as to how often and ruthlessly overweight people get picked on, but in my opinion it went overboard. I was like, “OK, I GET IT!”
Bethany is a pretty witty girl, and she takes most of the insults hurled her way in stride. A girl can’t hold out forever, though, and that’s why I’m glad when Bee had her breakdown she had a good friend alongside her. There is also romance, but it’s not a main plot point and its’ progression is unusual to say the least.
The book drags in the middle some. I didn’t see the point of Bethany and her friend Cambridge’s little foray into a drug filled party, and I think the book could have done without that scene and a few others that seemed like page fillers. But by the end, there are a couple of really cool surprises and the book wraps up in a believable way.
I think a lot of girls will relate to Bethany and her journey, teenagers or even older. The author had a way of making you feel for a character while also being able to see their flaws. This was a fun summer read and I definitely recommend it.
About the Author
Jenny Ruden has published short stories and essays in Nerve, Salon, Eclectica Magazine, Literary Mama and High Desert Journal. She won an Orlando award for creative nonfiction, was named a finalist in Glimmertrain’s short fiction contest, and has been nominated for the Pushcart prize two years in a row. She has worked with teenagers for over ten years as a teacher of Reading, Writing and GED, and has an MFA in Fiction from the University of Oregon. She lives with her husband, two daughters, two basset hounds and cat in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Visit her website jennyruden.com, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.