In this YA novel, a 15-year-old boy is sent to a wilderness camp for delinquents.
It’s 1980, and while life in a cookie-cutter suburb of Tucson can be dull, narrator Daniel looks forward to summer vacation in a few weeks. But Mom and Dad, convinced he’s heading down the path of his wild-child older sister, Jackie (currently disappointing her parents while living in Phoenix), have signed him up for Quest Trail—camping in the desert with other teenage ne’er-do-wells for character-building wilderness education. At least Daniel’s childhood friend Greg Pittz will be there, and the campers include the glamorous, charismatic Vera Lee Buffington. They almost make up for the terrible food and painfully corny, coerced self-help shticks, such as joining in a circle to declare your “daily wintention.” When an authoritarian counselor goes too far, Vera proposes an escape plan and is joined by Daniel, Greg, and another camper. Their ensuing adventure includes hopping a train, stealing a dune buggy from a marijuana stash house in the desert, and eventually tracking down Jackie. In the end, Daniel has a new appreciation for his family, friends, and the entire Quest Trail experience. Debut author Polito writes excellent dialogue, nailing his wiseass teenagers’ snarky observations: “The road to hell is paved with good wintentions.” Also on target are the camp’s maddeningly earnest lingo and maxims, like “sarcasm…is simply the scar tissue of the soul.” Beneath the jokes, though, is a compelling story of growth; as Vera puts it, “Quest Trail is the epicenter of suckitude, but real shit happens here, real friends happen here.” That Daniel wrests an authentic experience from the camp’s “jackass solemnity” speaks well of him and his growing maturity.
An entertaining, comic, but also thoughtful coming-of-age tale.