Sharon's Reviews > Camo Girl

Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon
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Dec 17, 11

bookshelves: juvenile-fiction, realistic-fiction, mock_coretta_scott_king
Read in December, 2011

** spoiler alert ** I thought this was a really interesting book, and that Kekla Magoon has grown so much as a writer from The Rock And The River. I think my favorite thing about it is that it tackles a lot of really tricky subjects I have rarely seen handled in children's literature. I mean, I've seen books that have talked about mental illness or post-traumatic stress disorder, but the little nuances of these situations were so true to life and handled so well--like the defensiveness, the weight that Ella felt in both protecting and hiding her friend's illness without understanding why.

I loved the camouflage theme and how it was developed in that all three characters were hiding something big in their lives, and that they all hid in different ways. Z escaped into his fantasy world of knights and spies, Ella threw herself into protecting Z and looking out for him, and Bailey threw himself into being well-liked and popular because he was used to making new friends so much and often. I loved it showed the kids had different coping techniques, which was realistic. In the end facing their bigger family problems, though it caused disturbances in life as they knew it, was healthier.

I thought the relationships in this book seemed so well-drawn and believable. I could see how Z's make-believe was really charming enough to make Ella luagh and draw her in, without her even admitting to herself how avoidant and truly unwell it was, and the scene where she saw Z as an outsider would for the first time was powerful, when she came upon several kids observing him freak out over Bailey and his "missing treasure". As her first sense of just how off-kilter he, and they, looked to others it really worked. Her constant questioning of herself and her automatic thoughts that her ex-friend Millie wouldn't want to sit with her at lunch that weren't necessarily valid are *very* true to the experience of social anxiety, especially at this age, as I've experienced it myself. Bailey was an interesting character as I've definitely known people like that myself as well, who spin stories or exaggerations on the truth because they know what people will like to hear and they are trying to be well-liked, while inside they are dealing with or suppressing painful secrets.

The CSK criteria come into play here by depicting Ella's sense of alienation as pretty much the only bi-racial student at her school, and her shame in being labeled "camo girl" because of her mixed skin color. When Bailey comes in as another black kid, they have an instant bond because of their race. Magoon captures the sense of racial alienation very well, and shows how even if you're not constantly bullied like Bailey, it's always there. "Camo girl" ends up having a relevant double meaning with the fact that Ella and all the other characters are hiding something.

Overall, I was very impressed by this book having just picked it up for this mock discussion and going into it cold. With The Rock And The River, I felt that Magoon knew the Black Panthers and Civil Rights was important to write about for kids, but I didn't get the sense of characterizations and nuances as strongly. Somehow I get the feeling that Magoon either intuitively understands mental illness and it is a topic near and dear to her heart, or she has really done her research. Either way, it is one of the most well-crafted children's books I've encountered about this topic in a long while and I would heartily recommend it and definitely think it's CSK-worthy.

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