Sixteen-year-old Lizzie Finkelstein is a hard-partying socialite who lives a charmed life with her mother in Manhattan. After a public drunken escapade results in both an arrest and an embarrassing viral video online, Lizzie’s parents stage a late night intervention. Lizzie finds herself whisked away to Utah to learn a lesson or two about taking responsibility at Camp Smiley, a wilderness survival program for troubled kids. Camp Smiley is a far cry from Lizzie’s high society life in New York. Without her stable of luxury hair/makeup items, her teacup Pomeranian, contact with the outside world or access to social media, Lizzie must face the harsh conditions of the outdoors. Grouped with troubled campers in which she’s certain she has nothing in common (except Jack, who’s pretty hot), Lizzie must now learn to dig her own toilet in the woods and build a fire by rubbing two sticks together before the camp will ever let her go back to her former existence. She has a choice: get with the program, or get out of there.
As the novel progresses, Lizzie realizes, even though she does everything in her power to avoid coming to terms with it, that her life in New York is not all it is cracked up to be. Living in a penthouse apartment and getting ready for dates with A-list celebrities makes her think she's got it made, but when she meets Director Willis at Camp Smiley, everything is turned on its head. Fun and games is a thing of the past, and discovering truths about herself that she never knew existed becomes a fairly regular pastime.
Along the way, she discovers who her true friends are (and aren't), from Jem, her high society best friend, to Chandra, Sam, Ari, and Jack, who have encountered their own struggles, from vandalism to addictions to bullying that brought them to Camp Smiley. A variety of issues are touched upon in this novel that teaches how courage sometimes appears when it is least expected.
Even though places like Camp Smiley surely exist, where one has to dig their own toilet, start their own fires, and take care of themselves in a variety of ways to assert real independence, some of what happened along the way seemed a bit farfetched. Director Willis' strong handed nature at the beginning of their trek to Camp Smiley differed far too much from the kinder ways in which Scarlet and Jed, Lizzie's trail counselors, handled the issues the five "campers" were dealing with along the way. That, coupled with Lizzie's attempts, bungled and not, to escape Camp Smiley, made Director Willis' reactions to her from beginning to end not as believable as they could have been. However, the way that Camp Smiley provided Lizzie much needed introspection served its purpose as she genuinely grew as a character throughout the novel.
Trish Cook has written an enjoyable story in 'Outward Blonde' - one that captures the essence of what it means to be oneself, and how those you surround yourself with can make or break who you are as a person.