By Elizabeth Wroten
Kidlit Review: Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon
On 30, Apr 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Set in a suburb of Las Vegas, Ella and Zachary, called Z, have been friends forever, but Z has always been “the weird kid&” in their class. He collects stubby pencils, plays chess, and maintains an elaborate, and public, fantasy life, starring himself as a brave knight. Z’s games were okay back in 3rd or 4th grade, but by now their other friends have ditched them both. Z doesn’t care, but Ella longs to be part of a group of friends, even though most of the class makes fun of her. When a new boy, Bailey, moves to town, he befriends Ella, because they are now the only two black kids in class. But Bailey is popular, popular enough to make Ella cool and give her a wider circle of friends, but only if she stops hanging out with Z. Ella’s faced with a difficult decision, remain loyal to the boy who has been her best and only friend for years, or pass up the opportunity to be one of the popular kids that she has always longed to be.
Camo Girl so perfectly captures the tension of friendship and the budding awareness of social hierarchy in late elementary/early middle school. Ella and her best friend Z are what I would call young. They aren’t quite ready to join the fracas of their peers stratifying, but Ella at least isn’t immune to the pull of popularity.
Add to this that Z has a difficult home situation that has driven him into a rich fantasy world. And Ella has what sounds like vitiligo, which causes the skin to look mottled. She is biracial and, from her descriptions, it sounds like the mottling is fairly noticeable. As everyone knows, kids in middle school can be really cruel and any kind of difference is grounds for social exclusion, so Ella and Z are on the outskirts of everything.
That hasn’t really mattered though, until a new boy moves into Ella’s neighborhood and joins them at school. He’s cute and he’s nice and it seems like he wants to be Ella’s friend. He even accepts Z. But Ella is gun shy and she has a hard time trusting Bailey and is always waiting for him to realize he shouldn’t be hanging out with her. She is also torn between this new friendship (or more) with Bailey and her deep and old loyalties to Z. It also seems that Z is struggling to let Ella have other friends (understandably once you get the scoop on what has happened to him) and that makes Ella feel even more guilty and conflicted.
I absolutely loved that Ella was never willing to give up her friendship with Z. I’m not sure many kids given the chance to gain social standing at that age would be so kind or mature. That isn’t to say Ella isn’t portrayed as human though. She gets frustrated with Z and how it feels like he may be holding her back.
Camo Girl is definitely kidlit in my book. The characters are in fifth grade and there is no language or behavior that would be objectionable for that age group. It’s written in fairly short chapters and isn’t an overly long book so it would be a great read for anyone looking for a friendship book or realistic fiction.