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4.4 36
by Joan Lowery Nixon

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Emily has never fit in her overachieving family. Instead of getting straight As, she sits in the back row and hides behind her hair. As a result, her parents have enrolled her at Camp Excel--an academic camp for underachievers--for the summer. Emily doesn't want to go, and not just because she feels it isn't necessary. She's been plagued by a recurring nightmare since


Emily has never fit in her overachieving family. Instead of getting straight As, she sits in the back row and hides behind her hair. As a result, her parents have enrolled her at Camp Excel--an academic camp for underachievers--for the summer. Emily doesn't want to go, and not just because she feels it isn't necessary. She's been plagued by a recurring nightmare since she was a child. And there's something about this camp that feels familiar--has she been there before? Why can't she remember?

With the help of two new friends, Emily discovers that her nightmare is not just in her head. Someone at Camp Excel has a secret--and will do anything, even murder, to keep Emily from uncovering the truth.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From the late Nixon (The Other Side of Dark), a four-time Edgar winner, comes this middling murder mystery set in a summer camp for underachieving teens. An inexplicable panic overtakes 16-year-old Emily when she learns she is being sent to Camp Excel. Then, on the drive there, she falls asleep and has the frightening nightmare that has haunted her for years, of herself struggling to break free of tangled vines and then spying a body with eyes and mouth wide-open. Emily feels even more unsettled when her roommate urges her to choose one of the future-predicting symbols from her rune collection and Emily randomly selects one that warns that "forces of evil" are working against her. Readers receive extra clues: intermittent, brief chapters introduce the voice of an anonymous individual who obviously works at the camp-and wants Emily dead. Despite some taut suspenseful passages, Nixon's narrative relies too heavily on coincidence. And, despite some clever false leads, the whodunit's denouement is disappointing, as the villain turns out to be a character who has remained largely in the background. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
The suspense builds and the action rises in this thrilling story based on the reoccurring nightmare of a young teenaged girl. Emily is haunted by the image of a dead woman's face that she repeatedly sees in her dreams. As Emily's parents prepare to send her to a special school for underachievers, an inner sense warns her of impending danger. Even at the camp, unusual signs continue to indicate that she is at risk. At first Emily attempts to shrug off the signs, but the threats soon become too serious to ignore. Emily must acknowledge and accept her past in order to confront and conquer the future. In the process she discovers an inner strength that helps her to build confidence and to realize that she does indeed possess the qualities needed to succeed. Many young adults may relate to the feelings of isolation and insecurity that Emily initially feels, and they will certainly root for her as she faces her fears. Joan Lowery Nixon has written many books for young adults and she has earned numerous awards for her work, including the Edgar Allen Poe award for best young adult mystery. 2003, Delacorte Press/Random House, Ages 12 to Adult.
— Denise Daley
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2003: A good old-fashioned YA thriller, with haunting dreams, loyal friendships, threatening adults, and dense parents—oh, and a summer camp setting! (A good cover too.) It's a story told in the third person, with Emily as our heroine. She is a girl who is labeled as an underachiever and sent by her parents to a special camp program for such students. The first attempts to get Emily to talk about herself bring up all her recurring nightmares—nightmares she has suffered since she was eight years old. At the camp, details from her nightmares turn up in reality, even the portrait of a woman who is the corpse in Emily's dream. Then Emily is stalked. Maybe her nightmare is a memory of a crime she witnessed when she was eight; maybe the murderer is at the camp too; maybe Emily is the next victim. This will be easy to pass on to any younger YA to read, even reluctant readers. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2003, Random House, Dell, Yearling, 166p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Claire Rosser
Emily Wood is a classic underachiever. Although she possesses a fair degree of intelligence and talent, she has never displayed any noteworthy accomplishments, and her parents have finally had enough. This summer, Emily is packed off to Camp Excel, a cutting-edge facility specifically designed to draw out the hidden talents in young people just like her. In Emily's case, however, Camp Excel also draws out the ongoing terror of the recurring nightmare that has haunted her dreams for as long as she can remember. Feelings of dread engulf Emily as her parents pull into the camp. The sickly sweet smell of honeysuckle permeates her being; she is suffocating. With such a premise, one would imagine that this author would deliver another tightly wound, bone-chilling, suspenseful tale. Sadly, however, this effort, as its protagonist, does not quite measure up to its potential. Alternating voices featuring an unknown watcher are toothless and fall flat. Emily's character is fairly well developed, but everyone else, from her misfit pals to the murderer suspects, is completely one-dimensional. The action is wrapped up too neatly and with too many coincidences. Nixon's fans will undoubtedly welcome this book as a rainy day read, but others will unfortunately wish for something more from this four-time Edgar Award winner. VOYA Codes: 3Q 3P M J S (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Delacorte, 192p,
— Tim Brennan
With Nightmare, Joan Lowery Nixon delivers another fast-paced mystery. Troubled by a recurring nightmare that hints at murder, Emily Wood is a classic underachiever in a family that emphasizes success. To address her lack of motivation, her parents send Emily to Camp Excel, a summer camp developed by a famous educator to motivate adolescents to achieve to their potential. At Camp Excel, Emily learns that her nightmares are the result of an all-too-real event she witnessed as a child, and someone at Camp Excel was involved. Emily realizes she is in danger, but she is not sure who she can trust. Suspense mounts when another student at Camp Excel is attacked, and Emily is convinced she was the intended victim. Nightmare is an enjoyable mystery, best suited to middle school students and struggling readers. 2003, Delacourte Press, 166 pp., Ages young adult.
—F. Todd Goodson
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Since childhood, 10th-grade Emily has had nightmares about a shadowy, slimy place where she is entangled with vines and sees a body lying in water. She is so petrified by this dream about the open-mouthed and blankly staring corpse that she is unable to confide in anyone. Her parents are upset because she won't let them help her and are frustrated because she doesn't take after her two brilliant sisters. They send her to Camp Excel, an experimental program for underachievers, where Emily has a sense of d j vu, and her true nightmare begins when she realizes her life is in danger. Elements of suspense and mystery are cleverly integrated with the teen's problems resulting from what she witnessed as a child. Readers will once again fall under Nixon's spell as they enjoy this page-turner.-Susan Cooley, formerly at Tower Hill School, Wilmington, DE Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Teenager Emily Wood has had a recurring nightmare involving a place she cannot name, a dead woman, and a menacing presence. Although she's deeply frightened by it, she feels unable to share the details with anyone. At school she lurks in the back row, hides behind a curtain of hair, and is labeled an underachiever. Her concerned parents are now sending her to a special summer camp where a renowned educator promises to "cure" her. The camp and the people who work there turn out to be the participants in Emily's nightmare and she is in danger from the murderer. Eccentric new friends help her find the answers. Nixon lays out the clues cleverly without resorting to overloading the reader with red herrings. The adult characters are somewhat one-dimensional, but after all that's how teenagers see them. A taut, well-constructed mystery by a writer who will be missed. (Fiction. 12+)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.63(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


Shades and shadows slithered over and around her, trailing wisps of damp air, sticky-sweet honeysuckle, and the acrid smell of rotting leaves. Her heart pounded, and she grunted with exertion, struggling to get through the tangle of vines, knowing--even in her sleep--what she would find when she broke free. The crumpled body lay half in, half out of the water, eyes stretched wide with horror, mouth open in a scream no one could hear.

In her nightmare the body was always there.

Emily Wood's mother twisted, reaching from the front seat of the car to clutch Emily's knee. "Wake up, love," she said, her voice filled with concern. "You're having a bad dream again."

Emily gasped for breath as she opened her eyes to the overbright early-afternoon sun that flooded the car. In spite of the air-conditioning, she was clammy with sweat, and her mouth felt dry and fuzzy. She struggled to sit upright, pushing back damp strands of the curly, pale hair that had fallen over her face, and willed the familiar nightmare to vanish from her mind.

Mrs. Wood's face sagged with worry. "Emily, if you would only tell us about the dream and talk about why it frightens you . . . perhaps if we found a good therapist--"

"It's only a stupid dream, Mom. It doesn't mean anything. I don't want to talk about it. I just want to forget it."

"But this nightmare has recurred ever since you were a little girl, and now you're sixteen--almost seventeen. Isn't it time that--"

"Mom! Please!"

Emily's father, Dr. Robert Wood, quickly glanced from the road, then back again. "Let it go, Vicki," he said softly. "We're almost there."

Mrs.Wood swung forward, ducking her head and burrowing her shoulders into the contoured padded leather of the passenger seat. "I was only trying to help her," she complained, as if Emily couldn't hear. "She has never let me help her. It's like her hair. If she just let me take her to a good stylist . . ."

Emily didn't respond. She was tired of trying to explain to her mother that talking about it would make the nightmare more real. The bad dream had first popped into her mind, terrifying her, when she was much younger. Had she been eight? Ten? And every now and then it would unexpectedly reappear. The dead body . . . the blood on its face . . . the sickening smell of too-sweet honeysuckle blossoms. Emily was completely puzzled about the nightmare and what it might mean. She had never told anyone what she saw in the dream. She was sure she never would.

The car slowed and turned into a wide drive under an arched sign that read camp excel.

Emily made a face. Camp Excel? Who did they think they were kidding?

Her mother sat upright and, in what Emily thought of as her let's-all-be-in-a-happy-mood voice, began commenting about the beautiful rolling hills and the bursts of gold black-eyed Susans and pale Queen Anne's lace that dotted the roadside. Her father added a few enthusiastic comments about the beauty of the Texas Hill Country in contrast to the flatness of Houston, but Emily slumped against the backseat, unable to believe what was happening to her.

It had been no surprise when teachers had labeled her an underachiever. The surprise was that anyone expected her to do any better. Her oldest sister, Angela, had aced every test she'd ever taken. She'd been valedictorian of her high school graduating class and was now among the top ten at Harvard Law School, planning some day to join their mother's law firm. Monica, next in line, was also valedictorian. She had chosen to follow in their father's medical footsteps and attended the University of Southern California, majoring in premed.

Angela and Monica gave speeches, led programs, and walked across stages to win honors and medals. The idea of trying to match what her sisters did, in rooms filled with eyes staring at her, terrified Emily. Content to disappear in any crowd and in any classroom, Emily was comfortable being little known and hardly ever noticed. She didn't even mind being classified as an underachiever, if that was what it took to be invisible.

Emily suppressed a sigh, wishing everyone would just leave her alone. It was plain bad luck that her tenth-grade guidance counselor had called her parents, excited about Camp Excel, a new, intensive six-week experimental summer program for students who were not performing to their abilities.

"It certainly wouldn't hurt to send you, darling," Mrs. Wood had announced at the dinner table. "Nothing else--rewards . . . tutors . . . praise . . . Nothing we've tried has helped." She had tucked a loose strand of her light, gray-streaked hair behind her ears and had smiled encouragingly at Emily. "According to Mrs. Carmody, Dr. Kendrick Isaacson has developed an absolutely marvelous summer program to help underachievers learn to do their best. He's gaining fame among both psychiatrists and educators."

"I never heard of him," Emily had said. "I bet you didn't, either, until Mrs. Carmody told you about him."

"Of course I have. His field is psychology. Patty Foswick, my friend in Dallas, has raved about him and urged me to take you there for an evaluation. But I realized that Dallas would be too far away for you to do any extended work with him, but in the Hill Country resort they're using for the summer school--"

Emily's father had interrupted. "Is he in private practice?"

"No," Mrs. Wood had answered. "He's one of the founders of the Foxworth-Isaacson Educational Center in Dallas."

Emily had dropped her fork with a clatter, her fingers suddenly unable to hold it. For an instant she was numb, unable to see or breathe or think.

"Emily?" she'd heard her father ask from a long distance away. "Emily? Is something the matter?"

Gripping the edge of the table, Emily had forced herself to take a deep breath. As she'd felt her mother's hand clamp onto her forehead, she'd opened her eyes. "I--I'm okay," she'd said. "For a moment I just . . ."

She couldn't finish the thought. She had no idea why she'd suddenly felt a horrible fear rush through her body. It didn't make sense, so there was no way she was going to say anything to her parents about it. She'd repeated the words over again in her mind, The Foxworth-Isaacson Educational Center. Had she heard the name before? She had no recollection of it. So why had it made her so afraid? Emily could find no explanation.

"She isn't running a fever," Mrs. Wood had said, and had taken her hand away. "But did you see, Robert? The color absolutely drained from her face. I thought she was going to faint. Is there some new virus going around Houston?"

"Nothing out of the ordinary," he'd answered.

Meet the Author

Joan Lowery Nixon was the author of more than 130 books for young readers and was the only four-time winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Best Young Adult Mystery Award. She received the award for The Kidnapping of Christina LattimoreThe SéanceThe Name of the Game Was Murder, and The Other Side of the Dark, which also won the California Young Reader Medal. Her historical fiction included the award-winning series The Orphan Train Adventures, Orphan Train Children, and Colonial Williamsburg: Young Americans.

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Nightmare 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was pretty good although the ending was abrupt and had a lot of content crammed in. A little way into the book I was determined to solve the mystery and I finished it in one day. Although when I was a couple of pages from the end the mystery was still unsolved leading me to wonder if there was a sequal. However in the last couple of pages the mystery was solved... and the book over. But overall I would rexcomend it.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Anonymous 6 months ago
Pads in sitting next to them.
Anonymous 6 months ago
They sat together
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nightmare is a realy good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When u r writing a review u dont need to tell us the story. We want an opinion good bad awesome ok. We look at these to see if we want to read the book. Not have you tell us so for all of you that do that stop it is annoying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Courtdork13 More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. Finished in 1 day and it was so interesting to read. "Seeing" everything that happened in the book in my head was incredible and creepy. It's not scary enough to give you nightmares or leave you wanting to keep the lights on at night, but it's enough to keep you wanting more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LP-aislsee35 More than 1 year ago
In her dreams it was always there, a dead body half in and half out the water; open mouthed in an attempt to scream, and blankly staring. Sixteen year old Emily Woods is a teenage girl who suffers from a nightmare of a dead body. She is labeled as an underachiever by her teachers and parents. She is sent to Camp Excel by her parents, a camp where they motive underachievers to reach full potential. She notices that someone is stalking her and attempts to kill her. Emily and her three loyal friends: Haley, Taylor, and Maxwell must quickly find out who is the dead body. Who killed her, and is now after Emily? Is her nightmare imagination or reality? Nightmare is a mixture between mystery and horror. It is also a "sit on the edge of your seat" piece of writing due to Emily's life threatening situations throughout the whole book. If you want to find who the killer was, you'll have to think and read back and forth; the killer will catch you by surprise
Erika1015 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book, from the start of it I didn't put it down until I was done. Nice plot and great characters, I liked the way it was written and reccomend it 2 anyone who enjoys stories like this or fans of ms.nixon.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
nat93 More than 1 year ago
The book Nightmare by Joan Lowery Nixon is a very thrilling book. In this book, Emily wood(the main character) is sent to a summer camp called Camp Excel. She is sent there by her parents, who see her as an underachiever, but in reality, Emily is not like her two older sisters, who made straight A's. Emily sits in the back of the class and hides behind her hair so she wont be called on. This book, though, really revolves around Emily's reoccurring nightmare. With the help of two new friends that she meets at Camp Excel, she is able to understand her nightmare and uncover that this nightmare might have actually happened...or not. To find out more you must read this book. I personally enjoyed the book Nightmare. It was exciting and very suspenseful. Although it did start out kind of slow but by the end I as hooked into what was going to happen next. If you enjoy mysteries,suspense, or nail biting kind of books this one is for you. It kept me hooked to an extent that I could not even put it down until I had finished it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i liked it, it had a good plot to it and it makes sense and i can relate to the charceter and im going to reread it too
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At the beginning the story started really slowly, and there wasn't many details. Got pretty good at the end. Wouldn't read it again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
i don't know how i really feel about this book. Joan Lowery i obviously a talented writer but, the only thing that really kept me going was the chapters between chapters. i don't know if that is good or not. there is a ton of suspects. and it does make you try to think and sykes you out.i do recommend it though.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Emily Wood, an ordinary girl, has wittnessed a murder. While at the local park Emily sees a body thrown from the fake mountain. The staring face appears in her dreams to this day and now she is terrified of sleep. A teen, Emily Wood has been marked as an under achiever and sent to a camp for help. With new freinds in tail Emily begins to unravel her past. Taylor Emily`s best friend is attacked the same day she changes her hair to look just like Emily`s. Coincidence Emily dosn`t know but she knows she has to be careful. Someone knows Emily saw the murder so long ago and that same person wants Emily dead. Joan Lowery Nixon spins a terrifing tale of chase murder and death. Relistic, twisting and turning to an ending you won`t expect. A truly mystifing book.