From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up—In this vivid and realistic novel, Strasser describes the horrifying violence and injustices experienced by teens sent to a disciplinary boot camp at the behest of their parents. Abducted by transporters in the middle of the night, 15-year-old Garrett finds himself handcuffed in the back of a car trying to make sense of why he is being sent to a facility for troubled teens. Convinced that he does not belong in Lake Harmony, he has difficulty conforming to the camp's standards. As a result, he is subjected to continuous physical and mental abuse. Drawn in by two other students, Garrett takes part in an ambitious plot to escape this never-ending "behavior modification." Throughout the story, readers are given a strong sense of the hopelessness the teen feels, especially when he realizes that he is completely isolated from anyone who can help him. The ending is both realistic and disturbing as his fate at Lake Harmony is revealed. Writing in the teen's mature and perceptive voice, Strasser creates characters who will provoke strong reactions from readers. While most teens will undoubtedly identify with the protagonist's sense of being misunderstood by his parents, many will be outraged by the manipulation, torture, and hopelessness experienced by the residents at Lake Harmony. However, all of them will certainly find themselves engrossed in this fast-paced and revealing story about the hidden side of teenage incarceration.—Lynn Rashid, Marriots Ridge High School, Marriotsville, MD
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Louis Sachar's Holes (1998) described a juvenile detention camp with tall-tale trappings. For a somewhat older audience, this documentary-style novel tackles similar "boot camps" without the fablelike buffer, delivering a troubling glimpse of what might go on in such camps (and backing it up with an author's note and sources). Garrett, 15, is trapped in the "secret prison system for teenagers" when his controlling parents, enraged by his affair with a teacher, are lured by the promise of a boot-camp brochure: "The child who returns from the Lake Harmony experience is the child you always knew you had." Once at the camp, Garrett endures a battery of brainwashing techniques, including physical abuse, and eventually meets two other desperate teens who want to escape. Some plot elements don't add up; it's hard to believe, for instance, that the one supportive adult Garrett encountersa wardenwould let the camp continue without blowing the whistle. But as in Strasser's Give a Boy a Gun (2000), the real-world issues will hit a nerve. Mattson, Jennifer