Review by Booklist Review
In his powerful debut graphic novel, Curato, best known for the Little Elliot picture books, tells the story of one transformative week of Boy Scout camp in 1995, in which chubby, awkward Filipino American Aiden wrestles with the growing realization that he's gay. Spare panels with simplified, black line work and gray ink washes relay the bulk of the story, following Aiden through activity-packed days and the whiplash-inducing highs and lows of summer camp social interactions, not only navigating friendships on the cusp of high school but dealing with aggressive homophobic and racist bullying. Curato carefully and thoughtfully uses fiery orange-and-red ink washes to accent the black-and-white artwork, not only around the ubiquitous campfire but to indicate moments of intense emotion--anger, naturally, but also fear, hope, and ultimately strength. A lot happens to Aiden over the course of the week, including a desperate moment of suicide ideation, and the transformation of the visual metaphor of fire beautifully crystallizes his growth and resilience in that time. Just as his deft artwork meticulously balances between blazing feelings and quiet contemplation of natural beauty, Curato gives Aiden a poignantly well-rounded character: for all the homophobia and racism inherent in institutions like the Boy Scouts and the Catholic church, Aiden still defiantly finds inspiration and strength there. Masterfully nuanced and stunningly told, this is visual storytelling at its finest.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Before transitioning from a private Catholic middle school to a public high school, Aiden Navarro, 14, wants to enjoy Boy Scout summer camp. As in school, however, Aiden can't escape the things he's so often been bullied for: his weight, his Filipino heritage, and his effeminate voice. He endures relentless taunts rooted in toxic masculinity from his camp peers for these things and the way he always seems to act differently than others--in one memorable moment, Aiden spontaneously riffs a Valley girl rendition of a campfire song. As Aiden feels true friendship with pen pal Violet and explores his growing feelings for tentmate Elias ("Gay boys like other boys. I HATE boys. They're mean," Aiden asserts) and his religious upbringing, his sense of isolation compounds. Through straightforward, thick-lined art, Curato interweaves surrealistic, emotionally charged moments, as when Aiden's emotionally abusive father assails his family as a large talking head. Throughout the story, the color red coalesces around fires literal and figurative, as when a camper pushes Aiden to a point of volcanic rage. Emotional and raw, Curato's story plummets Aiden deep into despair, including suicidal ideation, juxtaposing powerful moments of burning, fiery hope. Ages 14--up. Agent: Brenda Bowen, the Book Group. (Sept.)
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Review by Horn Book Review
Aiden is not looking forward to starting public high school in the fall; his Catholic schooling heretofore has had its challenges -- "jerks" -- but at least it had become familiar. A summer at Boy Scout camp provides a break from his squabbling parents and a chance to breathe ("Everything is so quiet" in the woods) before school starts. Not so fast: camp also has bullies, whose taunts referencing Aiden's presumed sexual orientation are only exacerbated by Aiden's growing love for another camper, the athletic and sweet-natured Elias. Grownup LGBTs will know exactly what Aiden is going through, but this book speaks so well to those kids currently undergoing the ordeal. The graphic novel takes its time to fully pull readers into Aiden's psyche and his setting, which provides the pleasures of summer and friendship and nature along with the rewards of Scout activities. (Orienteering!) The drawing is expertly cartooned, and the palette is black and white with occasional, and then increasing, daubs and splashes of red whenever passions -- of many kinds -- ride high. The variation of small, storytelling panels and full-page and double-page spreads for big moments is wonderfully effective, and the climax -- Aiden in a literal dark night of the soul in the outdoor chapel -- is high drama indeed, emotionally powerful, proudly and extravagantly spiritual (and as Catholic as any Graham Greene epiphany). He comes through it to have one perfect day at camp to sustain him going forward. If you will forgive the editorial intrusion, I wish I had had this book fifty years ago. Roger Sutton November/December 2020 p.97(c) Copyright 2020. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
The last week at Scouting camp highlights accomplishments and humiliations that last a lifetime. Aiden, a fat, biracial (Filipino and white), soon-to-be high schooler, is in his last week of Boy Scout camp in 1995. Each day documents events, from bonding over fireside songs and learning important skills to the micro- and macroaggressions that follow an adolescent boy of color who presents as effeminate and is queer. As the week moves on, readers learn more about Aiden and his life, from his stressful home with an emotionally abusive father to his love of Catholicism and being an altar server. The stress of a new school, bullies who are ever present, and struggles with identity drive Aiden to a breaking point, one that's familiar to many young people. The monochromatic illustrations, sometimes highlighted with red, orange, and yellow, are timeless moments of a remembered childhood. The use of red to highlight the tangible (firelight, a Swiss Army knife) and represent the intangible (passion, sorrow, and hope) is a master class in simplicity. But the true star of this book is the writing, which describes a boy who could live in any decade on his journey of self-discovery. This is a story that will be read and reread, and for some, it will be the defining book of their adolescence. Buy it. Read it. Share it. (afterword, resources) (Graphic fiction. 12-18) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.