Review: Camp Utopia and the Forgiveness Diet, by Jenny Ruden

About Camp Utopia & the Forgiveness Diet Camp Utopia & the Forgiveness Diet

Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Koehler Books (July 1, 2014)

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].”

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About the author, Jenny Ruden Jenny Ruden

Jenny Ruden has published short stories and essays in Nerve, Salon, Eclectica Magazine, Literary Mama and High Desert Journal. She won an Orlando award for creative nonfiction, was named a finalist in Glimmertrain’s short fiction contest, and has been nominated for the Pushcart prize two years in a row.

She has worked with teenagers for over ten years as a teacher of Reading, Writing and GED, and has an MFA in Fiction from the University of Oregon. She lives with her husband, two daughters, two basset hounds and cat in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Connect with Jenny

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My Thoughts

Camp Utopia & the Forgiveness Diet is everything I needed to read when I was fourteen, and sixteen, and twenty-one. It’s fresh, funny, and grounded in a heightened reality that never takes itself too seriously.

Protagonist Bethany is painfully real, depicted at the age when so many of us were battling the desire to conform to peer-defined norms with the equally strong urges to be true to ourselves. She faces the world with a combination of spunk and sadness, idealism and naivete that make her pop out from the pages and seem as if she’s recounting her story from across the kitchen table. So much did I feel for her, that I wanted to pull her into a hug, and assure her that things would eventually get better, even if she never lost an ounce.

While her sister (and her sister’s boyfriend) were also interesting characters, it is TJ, the boy-magician next door, who really captured my attention. How many of us have just such an unrequited love in our lives, even today. How many of us have done stupid things in an attempt to seem bolder, more interesting, more attractive?

Jenny Ruden has written a story that is part comedy, part drama, and wholly true, in the way that the best stories always are. Maybe you can’t lose weight by writing names on pieces of paper, but you can gain a stronger perspective of who you really are in the world by reading this novel.

Goes well with a plate of apples, strong cheddar cheese, and a handful of cashews, and a glass of peach iced tea.

TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, and the complete list of tour stops, click HERE.