Camo Girl

Camo Girl

4.6 20
by Kekla Magoon
     
 

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Set in the modern-day suburbs of Las Vegas, a young girl finds herself caught between two worlds. She is drawn to the popular new boy—the only other black student in the school—but also loyal to her BFF, a geeky boy whose social status, like hers, is bottom-rung, and with whom she has shared an incomparable friendship. Author Kekla Magoon deftly navigates… See more details below

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Overview

Set in the modern-day suburbs of Las Vegas, a young girl finds herself caught between two worlds. She is drawn to the popular new boy—the only other black student in the school—but also loyal to her BFF, a geeky boy whose social status, like hers, is bottom-rung, and with whom she has shared an incomparable friendship. Author Kekla Magoon deftly navigates the muddy waters of racial and cultural identities in this contemporary exploration of one girl’s attempt to find herself.

 

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—The lone African American in her Nevada junior high school, sixth-grader Ella struggles with self-image, bullying, and shifting friendships. Tormented by the vitiligo on her face, she shuns mirrors and feels ostracized. Her one true friend is Zachariah (Z), a homeless loner classmate whose imaginative fantasies mask his troubled emotional state. When Bailey James, also African American, enrolls in her school and befriends Ella, her world begins to change. Ella is drawn to Bailey's popularity and friendship but doesn't want to lose Z. When he disappears, Ella and Bailey secretly hop a bus to Las Vegas to find him. Along the way, Ella discovers that Bailey has secrets and fears of his own. The three children have maternal support and love but miss their fathers. Ella's died young; Z's, a gambler, abandoned his family; and Bailey's soldier father is in treatment for PTSD. Ella's coming-of-age narrative reveals her growing awareness of the complexities of life and the burdens each person carries. Magoon writes with insight, wit, and compassion. Characters are appealing; action is well paced; and adolescent angst is palpable. Although Ella's skin condition and Z's psychological problems are not clearly defined, the trauma of both is conveyed. Ella is caught between a desire to hang out with Bailey and the popular crowd or remain loyal to eccentric Z, and her actions, musings, and guilt will resonate with readers.—Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC
Publishers Weekly
Magoon (The Rock and the River) offers a sensitive and articulate portrayal of a pair of middle-school outsiders. Sixth-graders Zachary ("Z") and Ella are longtime friends, loners who have bonded over the loss of their fathers. On their own, they refer to themselves as Sir Zachariah and Lady Eleanor, using the trappings of royalty and chivalry to steel themselves against real-life bullies at their all-white school, who call biracial Ella "Camo-Face" and consider Z, who is extremely immersed in his fantasies, to be "reality-challenged." When another black student, Bailey, begins attending their school and shows an interest in Ella, it challenges her friendship with Z, casting a new light on his behavior and vulnerability. Ella's relationships—with her mother, grandmother, Bailey, and Z—are especially well rendered; the decisions Ella must make regarding Z are all the more poignant as she herself has seen a close friend become an ex-friend in recent years. This poetic and nuanced story addresses the courage it takes to truly know and support someone, as well as the difficult choices that come with growing up. Ages 8–14. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
"This elegantly crafted story features strong writing and solid characterizations of both main and secondary characters. Ella and Bailey’s racial identity is one element in a full and richly textured narrative. An out-of-the-ordinary setting—just outside of Las Vegas—and the nuanced picture of young teens and families under stress make this an outstanding follow-up to Magoon’s Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning debut, The Rock and the River (2009).

-KIRKUS, December 2010, *STAR

"Magoon writes with insight, wit, and compassion. Characters are appealing; action is well paced; and adolescent angst is palpable. Although Ella’s skin condition and Z’s psychological problems are not clearly defined, the trauma of both is conveyed. Ella is caught between a desire to hang out with Bailey and the popular crowd or remain loyal to eccentric Z, and her actions, musings, and guilt will resonate with readers.–Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC

-SLJ, January 2011

"This novel, by the author of The Rock and the River (2009), is a sensitive, quietly powerful look at discovering inner strength, coping, and thriving—or not—in the face of tragedy.— Heather Booth

BOOKLIST, February 2011

"All characters are well constructed. The story is written in a style that many early teens would appreciate for its real life parallels and issues. "

-Library Media Connection, May/June 2011

Children's Literature - Sarah Maury Swan
Ella is picked upon by the other kids because her skin is mottled—dark brown in some spots on her face and light brown in others. She is ashamed of her looks, thinking she is ugly. She had two friends up until this year—sixth grade. But Millie has been avoiding her except when they ride to and from school, so Ella is down to one friend who calls himself Zachariah, knight of his own realm. Everyone else makes fun of Z, but Ella—known to Z as The Lady Ellie-nor—is loyal to her friend. He helped her grieve when her father died by making up their fantasy world, which was good at the time. The problem is Zachariah slides ever further into the alternate world so he will not have to deal with the reality of his father having deserted him, leaving his mom and him to camp out at the Wal-Mart where she works. He becomes even more the object of torture for the school bullies; the Lady Ellie-nor coming to his rescue. Z's distress deepens when Bailey James enrolls at their school and seeks out Ella's company. She thinks it is because she is the only other black kid in the school. But he invites her to join him as he hangs out with the popular crowd and protects her from the bullies. She finds herself pulled toward other people and begins to reconnect with her friend Millie. Z goes on a mission to find his estranged father and Bailey helps Ella find him. Bailey has secrets of his own, including having his own father in a psychiatric hospital to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. Z finally gets the help he desperately needs and Ella begins to move on from her father's death. This is a very well written novel and an enjoyable read. Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan
Kirkus Reviews
Ella and Zachary, sixth-grade misfits, cling to each other to get through the taunts, rejection and, sometimes, abuse from their classmates. Ella is the only black student, and her discolored skin tone has some calling her "Camo-Face," short for camouflage. Zachary, or "Z," is small for his age and takes refuge in fantasy to cope with abandonment by his father. When a new black student arrives and seems open to Ella, she has hope for a new friendship, especially because, even though he can fit in with the popular group, Bailey reaches out to her. The insecure Z sees this as a threat, and Ella is torn between her loyalty to him and her wish for some normalcy. This elegantly crafted story features strong writing and solid characterizations of both main and secondary characters. Ella and Bailey's racial identity is one element in a full and richly textured narrative. An out-of-the-ordinary setting—just outside of Las Vegas—and the nuanced picture of young teens and families under stress make this an outstanding follow-up to Magoon's Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning debut, The Rock and the River (2009). (Fiction. 8-14)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781442417229
Publisher:
Aladdin
Publication date:
01/04/2011
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
306,684
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
8 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt


CHAPTER 1

I call him zachariah. he calls me eleanor, but the way he says it, it comes out sounding like Ellie-nor.

These are not our real names.

Most people, the sort of people who don’t need extra names, can get away with doing simple things like looking in a mirror or taking a bathroom pass out of the cafeteria in the middle of lunch hour. We are not most people.

Z and I have learned how not to see the things we don’t want to. It’s not that hard, but it makes us seem strange to everybody else. Z, especially, is . . . different . . . from the other kids in our class. Good different, as far as I’m concerned, but the kind of different that makes other people raise their eyebrows and sort of laugh under their breath, as if he’s not to be believed.

I’ve been gone maybe five minutes, but it’s too long. Heading back toward our table, I can almost hear that silly Sesame Street song humming in the air, converging on him. “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong . . .”

Z’s in trouble. I’m walking toward him and I see it, know I should never have left him alone, but some things can’t be helped. Our eyes lock across the room, and there’s nothing in his gaze but stark terror. I should never have left him alone.

Zachariah. Eleanor.

These are not our real names. These are our shadow names, our armor, our cloaks. They are larger than we can ever hope to be; they cause things to bounce off us so we can never be hurt. By anyone. Anything. Ever.

It doesn’t always work.

“Zachariah!” I practically scream it, running toward him.

“Ellie-nor,” he says, gazing at me with alarm.

These are not our real names, but none of that matters now. For the moment I simply throw my arms up over his head to stop the food from hitting him.

Spaghetti with mystery meat sauce.

Tiny rolling peas.

Vanilla pudding with cookies.

A carton of chocolate milk, unopened, thank goodness.

Z’s whole tray overturned by laughing hands. The bulk of it catches me in my shoulders, neck, and back.

Beneath me, Z sits stock still, clean but immobile, gazing innocently at the blank space of the table in front of him. He survived.

This, this is my superpower. My only power, to protect him. He wouldn’t understand what had happened. He would pretend not to see. Then he’d make up a story about how he had to crawl through a tunnel lined with bloody, mangled earthworms to get to freedom. He would smile, gooey strings of pasta hanging from his hair, and murmur, “All in a day’s work.”

Jonathan Hoffman tosses the soiled green tray onto the tabletop. He smiles at me in that way that is so infuriating. Is he proud of himself? As if no one else in the history of time ever thought to dump a lunch tray on someone’s head.

“Way to take the bullet, C. F.,” he says.

My face flushes with rage. I stand with my hands on my hips, ignoring the fact that I’m the one dripping with red sauce and noodles. I am Eleanor, Goddess of Everything, fearless in the face of danger.

“Do you ever get tired of being a gigantic jerk?” I snap.

Jonathan stretches lazily. “My work is exhausting,” he says, then saunters off to accept the high fives from his table of cronies.

I sink into the seat beside Z and let my head fall onto the table.

“Ellie-nor,” he says. “Ellie-nor.”

His small hand covers mine. I manage to look up, into his close-to-tearful face.

“Ellie-nor,” he says, but I’m not her anymore. Now I’m just Ella. Plain old everyday Ella, the girl with drying pasta goo in her hair, on her skin and clothes. I think some of the peas rolled into my shoe. Little cold mush balls sitting in there.

“You fought the dragon and won,” Z says. “You fought the dragon and won.”

I smile sadly. “Yeah, I did.”

Z taps the table in a drumming rhythm. “Brave, brave, fair lady. You fought the dragon and won.”

It’ll work for him to pretend. Z’s not like other kids. He knows what happened, but he can’t admit what it was, what it means about us in the real world. He believes, really believes, that we sit alone at lunch by choice.

I shove my own lunch tray toward him. “Eat this,” I say. “I’m really not hungry. Anyway, I have to go change.”

Z’s hand falls on my sleeve, tugging me to stay with him.

“You would cast aside this badge of honor?” His eyes bug out, incredulous. “You fought the dragon and won!”

Sighing, I unwrap the napkin from his spork and use it to wipe my neck. I left him alone once already today. So, I sit here, watching him eat—he polishes off everything on the tray and some of what fell on the table—until the end-of-lunch bell rings.

People look at me funny as they clear their trays, but it’s not only because of the food mess. They’d be looking, anyway. If Z and I were business-minded, we’d build a wall around our table, and a window. We could charge admission for each single peek in. We’d either make a fortune or be left alone. Win-win.

I try to become Eleanor again. Smile as they pass, like I know something they don’t. Make them uncomfortable.

“Ellie-nor.” Z reaches up under his shirt and pulls out two fluffy rolls. On spaghetti day, you have to pay ten cents extra for rolls. Z does not have ten cents, let alone twenty. He hands me one.

“Thanks,” I say, accepting the stolen roll. The lunch ladies don’t pay enough attention. Not when we go through the line, and not when we get food dumped on us. I guess it’s only fair.

I keep two changes of clothes in my locker. It’s important to be prepared for occasions like this. I keep an extra shirt for Z, too, but he’d never actually use it. He meant what he said about the badge of honor. I go along with a lot of his fantasies, but I can’t quite get on board with that one.

Z’s waiting outside the girls’ bathroom for me. He observes my change with large, thoughtful eyes. Then he pushes up his glasses with his pebble of a fist, ready to move on. I tug at the hem of my clean shirt, feeling guilty. Maybe it’s a form of surrender, I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet. What the right thing to do is when things fall out of the sky and hit you.

© 2011 Kekla Magoon

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