Both of my girls are currently at sleepaway camp. J will be there a total of 7 weeks this year and E for 3. They love this camp and look forward to it every summer. So I thought it might be appropriate to review a graphic novel that has been on our shelves for years, but that I only just recently picked up. My 10 year old encouraged me to read this one, although when I asked her why she liked it, I got the standard reply of “I don’t know.” Anyway, I did enjoy Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol even if I did feel sorry for her camp experience.
In Be Prepared, young Vera just wants to be like everyone else. But unlike all of the other girls at her school, she is Russian and being raised by a single mother. One thing that she knows is that in her upstate NY neighborhood, everyone goes to sleepaway camp over the summer while she and her brother stay and find ways to keep themselves occupied. When Vera learns of a camp that is subsidized by her church, she thinks that it is the answer to her prayers. Of course, that isn’t exactly the case and what Vera really needs to get out of this camp is how to believe in herself and not try to change so she can be like everyone else.
The camp is loosely based on one that the author attended as a kid. The campers were expected to speak Russian, there was no running water, and campers shared tents of 3. While it worked for the story, I had a really hard time believing that the camp would put an almost 10 year old in a tent with two 14 year olds. Now, my daughters love each other, but if there were expected to spend their summer with each other and not kids their own ages, this would not be our 6th year at Blue Star. Camps work by keeping kids of similar ages together. Vera struggles to fit in with the 14 year olds and the cliques they have already formed and tries to “buy” her way into their friendship, but really she just gets used and then teased.
When Vera finally gets frustrated with the way some of the older kids behave, she goes off on her own and has a moment of clarity. If it were only that easy, but in a book it has to be. After this moment, she is almost a new person. She realized that she didn’t like the way others behaved and that she didn’t need to spend time with them to enjoy herself. She puts her all into studying for a camp test and winds up making a good friend who is closer to her own age.
Vera realized that if you are pretending to be someone else, you are not necessarily going to find true friends. The same holds true for any kid in any social situation. Be the person you would want to be friends with. Embrace what makes you special and you will find someone to connect with.
Be Prepared is a great middle grade graphic novel. We all need a reminder sometimes to be true to ourselves.