Estelle: Dante’s Girl by Courtney Cole

Dante’s Girl by Courtney Cole ( website | tweet )
Publication Date: June 24, 2012
Publisher: Lakehouse Press
Pages: 224
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: royalty, Greece, complicated relationships
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Reece’s usual summer vacation in London visiting her father takes an unexpected turn when a serious attack closes all airports, and she is whisked away to beautiful Greece with a gorgeous boy who just happens to be the son of the Prime Minister of Caberra.

Reece is a small town girl who is afraid of flying, and Dante is just about her exact opposite. In the style of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, the two bump into each other in the airport and later find themselves seated next to each other on the plane. Although unlike STAT, their plane never lifts off after a horrific explosion kills all the passengers on a nearby flight. Immediately, security whisks Dante away from the attack and he takes Reese with him.

For such a traumatic beginning, it is completely forgotten when Reese and Dante land in Caberra, a small (made up) island in Greece, where Dante’s father is Prime Minister. She is instantly attracted to him, and can’t believe her luck – spending a few days in Dante’s house, meeting his friends, and only having one outfit to her name! (Oh no.) I’ll admit I got pretty swept up in their romance and this mystery surrounding Dante, but it seems pretty unlikely that a big event like the first one would be forgotten so easily right? I, for one, would have been pretty obsessed and affected by it.

But Greece is beautiful and Reece is really having the time of her life, especially when she is given the opportunity to stay for the rest of the summer… which means more staring at Dante, thinking about Dante, and well, being with Dante. I understand what she sees in him… he’s beautiful (as she mentions a bunch of times) and is extremely Prince Charming-like. But a few events that occur during this novel feel forced, and the special moments where they get to know each other are too easily glossed over. (Doesn’t everyone know that’s the best part?) Even their dialogue feels inconsistent… Reese alternates between sounding her age and also like a much older person (which doesn’t make sense judging from her insecurities and high dramatics).
With a little finesse, the author could have bridged the gap between this light, summery romance and the dangerous sub-plot that kept popping up. Instead the darker moments are flippantly disregarded by the characters, while the story climaxes into a major fairy tale (completely with the typical good vs. evil conflict). It feels unsettling. Despite the unbalanced plot, there are elements I enjoyed: Reece’s budding friendship with Mia (who desperately needed a solid friendship), the vineyard setting that felt like it was straight out of a movie (Letters to Juliet, maybe?), and a few Cinderella moments that straight out of a Disney Channel flick.
If you are prepared to embrace the drama, Dante’s Girl is worth giving a shot. It’s fast paced (I read it in a day), the chemistry is spot-on, and it is very easy to get lost in the majesty of Greece.

Estelle: Camp by Elaine Wolf

Camp by Elaine Wolf ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: June 15, 2012
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Pages: 256
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: 1960s, mother/daughter relationships, bullying, family secrets
Format read: Hardcover received from publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: In the summer of 1963, Amy is unwillingly sent to a summer camp run by her uncle. It seems she cannot escape her mother’s unpleasant comments, especially when a bully focuses on making her time at camp totally miserable.

Take any kumbaya notions of summer camp and forget them because Amy Becker’s experience is anything but.

Instead of a summer making friends and playing tennis, she is the butt of the biggest bully’s jokes. And sometimes more than jokes, incidents that could qualify as sexual harassment. Rory is probably one of the bitchiest characters I have ever met in the literary world. She has no respect for her equals, for her elders, and never thinks before she speaks. Her actions and her attitide were absolutely disgusting and I was beyond revolted by her treatment of Amy and the other campers.

The kicker is that Amy didn’t want to go to camp in the first place. Her dad’s brother, Ed, just bought the camp and was allowing Amy to attend when all she wanted to do was stay home with her mentally disabled brother, Charlie. Her mom is pretty detached and judgmental and Amy feels like she is the only one that Charlie can count on. But her dad wins this battle and Amy is off to camp for the summer of her life.

In the words of Cher from Clueless: As if.

Various events at camp (not just Rory’s behavior) cause Amy to remember many events of her childhood that she has kept buried and the mysteries of her mom’s behavior start to make sense. For so long Amy has heard about the “hard life” her mother has had to endure but she can only focus on the way her mom always has to look perfect, her hurtful scrutinizing, and her lack of love for both her and her brother. It’s heartbreaking to see how her mother’s history has created this wedge between them, and the events of the summer only cause that wedge to grow bigger and deeper.

Set in 1963, Wolf plants a few early seeds in the novel that give way to the secrets in Amy’s family but I never guessed what would have had happened or what would unfold to the Beckers. Uncle Ed, his wife, and snobby daughter are no help either. The amount of anger and how hurtful these people can be is beyond anything I have ever experienced. No wonder everyone felt so alone. (Acting like Amy’s mom and dad brought up their son to be mentally disabled just broke my heart in a million pieces.)

By the time Camp wraps up I was left to wonder if the author had inserted too much pain and drama into the lives of these four people. In any other book I would have said a definite yes but Wolf weaves the stories together in such a way that it just works. She’s brave not to sugarcoat the bullying and summer camp, which for more reasons than one, becomes a turning point in Amy’s life – for good and bad. I was also left to wonder if those who are treated badly and go through traumatic events are almost justified in their ugly treatment of others. It creates quite a dichotomy when the victim feels both compassion and hate for the antagonist.

The sheer cruelty and truth exposed in Camp make it a difficult read. Anyone with half a heart would not want anyone to go through anything like this, but Wolf brings important issues to the forefront and has created a coming-of-age story that, at times, reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with survival instincts that brought to mind Lord of the Flies. Impressive character development make Amy a character to root for, and Camp impossible to put down until you reached the final word.

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