Book Review: Camp Utopia and The Forgiveness Diet by Jenny Ruden

Sixteen-year-old Baltimore teen Bethany Stern knows the only way out of spending her summer at Camp Utopia, a fat camp in Northern California, is weight-loss. Desperate, she tries The Forgiveness Diet, the latest fad whose infomercial promises that all she has to do is forgive her deadbeat dad, her scandalous sister, and the teenage magician next door and (unrequited) love of her life. But when the diet fails and her camp nemesis delivers the ultimate blow, Bee bids sayonara to Camp-not-Utopian-at-all to begin what she believes will be her “real” summer adventure, only to learn that running away isn’t as easy—or as healing—as it seems.  

Her wry and honest voice bring humor and poignancy for anyone, fat or thin, tired of hearing “you’d be so pretty if…[insert unwelcome judgment about your appearance from loved one or perfect stranger].”

Release Date: July 1, 2014
Age Group: YA
Source: Review copy from author
Reviewed By: Kelli

I love contemporary YA, especially when the heroine is realistically flawed.  And there's no heroine more flawed than Bethany Stern.  Bethany is overweight and on her way to Camp Utopia, a weight-loss camp.  Her mother is sending her there for eight weeks, and all Bethany can think about is how much it'll hurt to leave her would-be boyfriend, TJ.  Bethany loves TJ, and although he does not reciprocate her feelings, they still spend a lot of time together and are best friends.  Besides her weight, Bethany holds a lot of resentment in her heart for certain members of her family.  She has no idea how to forgive them, and how to let the great pain she feels go.

It took me a little while to get into the story, because Camp Utopia and The Forgiveness Diet is written differently from the usual contemporary fiction.  I can't really articulate what felt different about this book, and Bethany's voice, other than to say that they were quirky and unconventional.  Once I got into the story, though, I really enjoyed Camp Utopia.

Camp Utopia is about so much more than losing weight.  It's about forgiving others for the ways they've hurt you, and ultimately it's about Bethany's journey to living an authentic life.  I loved watching Bethany slowly change throughout the story, softening up her long-held beliefs about certain people in her life.  She really grew up in her eight weeks at camp, and it was great to see the change in her and how that change affected her friends and family members.

As most of us know, being overweight usually isn't just about food.  It's about what you're using food for: escape, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, or just bad habits.  Bethany changes her thinking about food, and finds that when she opens herself up to change, changing her eating habits isn't so hard after all.  I liked that Ruden doesn't focus on just diet and exercise in Camp Utopia.  I loved that she approaches weight loss the holistic way: with an emphasis on eating healthy foods, making small changes to your activity level, creating positive relationships in your life, and also, therapy.  I appreciated that realistic and healthy approach to weight loss, and admired Ruden for taking a very touchy subject and creating a great story around it.

Camp Utopia made me smile so many times, and even tear up a few times.  I really enjoyed this thought-provoking, unusual read.  I would recommend it to fans of contemporary YA and look forward to Ruden's next book.


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