Shannon, who has been delighted that her parents are finally going to have a longed-for second child, is horrified when her new brother turns out to have Down syndrome. Like most kids, Shannon wants to blend in and have a family that is considered normal. She is torn between delight and fury at how the family’s prayers for a new baby have been answered.
After some erratic (but absolutely believable) behavior, Shannon is sent away against her will to Camp Outlook with her best friend. There she meets some fellow campers who are “different” from the norm. These new friendships, along with a series of mysterious experiences, help her to gain a new understanding of her spirituality and to see the specialness of her younger brother.
I found the process of reading Camp Outlook to be enjoyable. It’s very short and fast paced–I think it only took me about three hours collectively to read it from beginning to end. The story addresses important issues, like the concept of Imago Dei and our society’s treatment of those with special needs. The story is non-linear, alternating chapters with Shannon’s time at Camp Outlook and the events leading up to her departure for the camp. While this was a little confusing at times, it worked.
However, there is a reason I gave this book two stars. While the writing is good and solid, the characters felt flat to me, and the plot is not very interesting. Shannon’s inner ramblings are completely true to reality for most seventh or eighth graders, I’m sure, but I found it very difficult to connect with her because of it. She was very judgmental, especially of the character, Sam. I was hoping she would repent of her behavior at the end and realize it’s wrong to feel so negatively about someone based simply on the way they dress, but she doesn’t. She also throws around the word “bimbo” a lot, which is just…strange. And upsetting.
I’m also a little upset that Shannon’s parents never spoke with her about how to treat people with mental and physical disabilities until Gabriel was born. I could understand her ignorance if she was four or five, but a twelve or thirteen year old girl should know it’s not right to treat people poorly. Even her peers who bully and mock the special needs characters in the book know it’s wrong to do so.
Finally, I have a very real problem with this being labelled as a Christian book. It has Christian values in it, certainly. But the strange things that happen to Shannon at Camp Outlook are of a very mystical quality, and not really explained. She doesn’t undergo a conversion. She simply comes to an understanding of how mental and physical disabilities don’t detract from a person’s value. This is an idea embraced by, but certainly not unique to, Christianity. I would say that most if not all faith traditions, and even those who are not religious, would agree with that statement.
If you enjoy YA books that deal with heavier subjects in a light manner, you may enjoy this book. However, if you’re attracted to it because of the Christian label here, I urge you to proceed with caution.
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.