Review Detail

Kids Fiction 528
Letters from Camp
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Avery and Bett are very different girls. Avery lives with her architect father in New York City, loves to write, hates gym and swimming, and has some anxiety issues. Bett is a California girl who lives with her builder father and loves animals but is not a fan of rules. The two connect when Bett finds out that their fathers are dating and have been less than truthful with them, and ferrets out Avery's school e mail with come sleuthing. The two start an e mail conversation and try to thwart their fathers' plan to send them to the same summer camp in Michigan, to know avail. Once at the camp, they continue to e mail each other, having gotten technology waivers. Their fathers are on a motorcycle trip in China, which stresses out both girls. They try to make the best of the situation, and start to like each other, especially once Bett contacts Avery's long distant biologically mother, a friend of her father's and an internationally known playwright. Kristina shows up at the summer camp and takes the girls out one night, which ends in the girls getting kicked out of camp and Bett's grandmother, Gaga, being contacted. They all go to Kristina's acting camp, and Gaga even ends up getting a role in the play.

Then the unthinkable occurs. After a disastrous trip in China, the fathers break up. The girls were invested in the future of this relationship, but so were Kristina and Gaga. The girls return to their lives, continue to communicate, and are devastated when the fathers are interested in other people. They plan a rendezvous at the premier of Gaga's play in New York, but their plans don't go according to their desires. Soon, they are planning to trick their fathers into sending them to the same summer camp. Since Gaga is paying for Bett's tuition, they manage to both attend a traditional summer camp in Maine. Here, their communication is in the former of paper and pen letters, and includes a wider variety of recipients. The girls grow apart a bit, but a tragedy brings them, as well as their families, together in an unexpected way.
Good Points
In the tradition of Cleary's Dear Mr. Henshaw, Clements' Extra Credit and the Danziger/Martin collaboration, P.S. Longer Letter Later, Sloan and Wolitzer do a great job of portraying two very different girls through their epistolatory efforts, updating some of the correspondence to e mail. We get good descriptions of the other characters through the girls' eyes, so Gaga, Kristina and the fathers are well developed even though they have auxiliary roles in the plot.

Since this book covers two years' of summer camp plus the intervening time, there's a lot of change and growth for the characters. We see Bett calm down a it and not be quite as angry with life, and see Avery be a bit more adventurous and less anxious. My favorite character is Gaga, who completely reinvents herself by becoming a Broadway actress in her retirement years! It's interesting to have an outsider's view of the fathers' different relationships as well, and to see how they impact the girls.

Books about camp are always popular (I think not as many young people get to go to camp these days!), and family and friend dramas are the mainstay of middle grade literature. Readers who want to explore these topics, and to be introduced to some "old fashioned" methods of correspondence will be intrigued by Avery and Bett's communication in To Night Owl from Dogfish.
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