Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Magoon, Kekla. Camo Girl. Aladdin, 2011. 218 pages. ISBN 13: 978-1-4169-7804-6. This book is for grades 4 and up, or ages 9 and up, depending on reading level (3 stars out of 4).

I recently read in People that Jennifer Lopez was named the World’s Most Beautiful Person. I would not dare to argue J. Lo’s bootyliciousness, but that title is not only one of the most arbitrary pronouncements ever, it is also one of the most damaging. Beauty and its perception cause far too much anguish, stress and suicide. Feeling pretty is a tall order these days, despite the countless aids and accessories available. Several entire industries exist because of our desire to be more attractive, and as their advertisements suggest, we need them to feel good about ourselves. Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon lyrically explores the natural insecurities tweeners (ages 9-12) feel about beauty, acceptance, and loss. The beauty conflict is provided by the protagonist, Ella, who has “camouflage” skin tone with different shades and splotches of brown on her face. Ella is an imperfect narrator who sometimes sounds too mature and experienced for her age and life, but she mostly captures the pain of looking different and feeling ugly with intimacy and verisimilitude.

Ella and Z have been friends forever even though Z has changed over the past few years after Ella’s father died of illness and Z’s gambling father abandoned his family. Z and his mother live clandestinely at the local Wal-Mart (where she works) outside of Las Vegas. Z lives in a quixotic, fantasy world of dragons, knights, and quests in which the limits of reality are blurred: “See, it’s not that Z doesn’t know what’s going on. It’s not that he doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not. It’s just that he can’t stop pretending that the world is a better place than it actually is. If that makes him sick, then I wanna get me some of that flu” (13). Ella is accustomed to being picked on by jerk Jonathan Hoffman, and she has learned to accept her ostracism from any popular group, even her former BFF Millie’s crowd. But when new kid Bailey comes to school and he is not only the only other African-American at her school, he is cute too, Ella feels torn. Could Bailey find her “camo face” attractive? Would he accept Z as he is and not care that he is the butt of the school’s jokes? Could he actually understand the loss and fear that Ella and Z share? Ella must decide if Bailey is interested in popularity or real, in-your-face friendship.

There are too many books about beauty queens, beautiful people, and supermodels and not enough books that celebrate and exalt the ordinary. We are not all born with the potential to look like J. Lo or Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. Many of us are overweight, have bad skin and are bald (like me) and will never be one of the beautiful people. I like Camo Face by Kekla Magoon not only because it is beautifully written (reminiscent of the lyrical prose of Cynthia Kadohata), but also because the message is powerful: a book does not require a beautiful cover to be a beautiful piece of art.

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