Now THAT’s Scary

31 Oct

Okay, another book review for you:

While I was in Tennessee for my sister-in-law’s wedding, I read Boot Camp by Todd Strasser.

Wow, what a book. To be honest, I had a hard time getting into it, because it’s kind of a “guy book,” and I’m more into chick lit. But, since some of my students are reading it, I persevered. By the end of the first few chapters, I was hooked. The protagonist is a kid named Garrett, a rich upper-East-side inhabitant who is too smart for his own good. His parents are society types who want to keep their image pristine above all else. Garrett has taken to skipping school (because he is so smart that he doesn’t have to go every day), smoking pot (because it’s fun), and sleeping with his former math teacher (because he is mature for his age and they’re in love). For his parents, this is unacceptable. For fear that his actions might come back to haunt them in public circles, Garrett’s parents hire someone to kidnap him and transport him to a juvenile detention camp for wayward teens.

I liked Garrett from the start. He is a smart kid, the type who often gets typecasted by adults around him. He’s mature and smart, and he prefers the company of adults instead of peers. While the bit about fooling around with his teacher was on the creepy side, the treatment of that topic in the book makes it seem perfectly natural. When Garrett goes to boot camp, he has no idea why, and neither do the readers. The torture he endures during his stay is heart-wrenching, and it made me not want to put the book down. I felt so sorry for Garrett that I didn’t want to abandon him to face the bruality alone.

The ending of the book was a twist, to be sure. Garrett and two other inmates try to escape, and what follows is an extremely adventurous chase-and-capture sequence. I will not reveal the end of the story here, nor tell Garrett’s fate, but I would LOVE to discuss it with anyone who has finished the book, so feel free to e-mail me on that one ( or leave a comment here. I’m pretty fired up about this ending, still.

The true horror of this book is not the description of the physical torture, nor the mental abuse, that Garrett endures at Boot Camp. The really scary stuff the afterword, which explains the factual basis for the book’s setting. Here is an excerpt:

A secret prison system for teenagers exists in the United States. Many have never heard of it, and even among those who have, few understand what it really is or how it works. You do not have to be found guilty of a crime to be placed in one of these prisons, also known as boot camps. You do not even have to be accused of committing a crime. All you have to do is be under the age of eighteen.
It is impossible to know how many boot camps exist. Estimates put the number between one hundred and two hundred, and the number of teens in them between four thousand and ten thousand.

Just Google “boot camp,” as I did when I was looking up resources for this book to teach to my students, and a TON of sites will appear, advertising services like the ones offered at Lake Harmony (the fictional boot camp in the novel). As a parent of a somewhat difficult child, I get it. They can make us crazy. But do we really have to send them away to be tortured? Is that what the world comes to now, that parents can just send their kids away to be someone else’s problem? Maybe I’m judging too harshly, and I know I don’t understand what it must be like. But this book made me feel sad for kids whose own parents have not only abandoned them, but shelled out craploads of cash to make someone else torture them.

I recommend Boot Camp if you’re looking for a thrill ride, but be prepared to feel a disturbing pull in your gut long after you finish it.


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