Book Review: Camp Utopia and The Forgiveness Diet, Jenny Ruden (2014)

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

“Beauty settles in the flaws.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through the Goodreads First Reads program.)

Fifteen-year-old Bethany Stern’s life is a mess. She’s not-so-secretly in love with her next-door neighbor and best friend, Toby Jacobson (TJ for short), who doesn’t feel the same. An aspiring magician two years her senior, TJ is on the cusp of graduation – after which time he’ll gladly blow town (which is Baltimore, Maryland) to audition for the talent show American Envy. Her older sister Jackie is stuck in unhappy relationship with a pothead named Doug, and their mom Ellen was forced to relocate the family to a poorer area of town after her husband Richard (or “Dick,” as they derisively refer to him) walked out on them twelve years ago. Now he’s got a new wife and twin boys, and he only contacts his daughters on birthdays and holidays…if that. Bethany’s even convinced that Richard Goodman spotted her at Chuck E. Cheese – at her half-brothers’ birthday party, to which she was not invited – and purposefully ignored her because he was ashamed of her weight.

Which brings us to the titular “Camp Utopia” and “The Forgiveness Diet.” Bethany’s tried all manner of diets, with varying success; while sucking on food (but not eating it!) helped her to lose a few lbs, her new look didn’t change TJ’s feelings towards her – so she gained it all back, and then some. When her mother books her a slot (to the tune of $5000) at a “fat camp” hosted on the campus of California University of the Pacific, she makes one last-ditch effort to slim down with the newest fad diet, The Forgiveness Diet. Just write down who you forgive and what for, slip it into the forgiveness jar (or, in Bethany’s case, a discarded fast food bucket), and watch the pounds melt away. Of course, this isn’t what happens; instead, Jackie and Doug accidentally find the notes, thus creating a meltdown of epic proportions on the road trip there.

(More below the fold…)