Boot Camp, written in 2007 by noted young-adult author Todd Strasser, is a frightening book. Garrett Durrell is a 15-year old student. He's taller than average, exceptionally smart, polite, born into a rich family and has a compassionate heart. He's also dating his math teacher (eight years his senior) and is sitting handcuffed in a car on his way to ‘boot camp' as the story opens. The boot camp, Lake Harmony, is a private "behavior modification" program set among the forests of upstate New York. A facility for troubled teens, it is virtually a prison where students have no rights and where no communication with the outside world is allowed. Bullies ‘ordained' by the sadistic counselors have one rule to follow: don't leave marks. Garrett endures beatings and psychological humiliations day after day as he stubbornly refuses to admit that his affair with his teacher was wrong. Punishments increase when Garrett interferes with the tortures doled out to a sickly, pale boy named Pauly who's covered with a persistent, runny rash. Pauly and a scarred female resident, Sarah, eventually talk Garrett into escaping the compound and fleeing with them to Canada. Readers root for Garrett and his new friends with every quick turn of the page. The ending opens the way for much moral debate. Boot Camp was awarded the American Library Association's "Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers." Another award-winning novel for youth by Todd Strasser is Give a Boy a Gun (2002) centering on school violence.
Recommended by Valerie Owens