Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Boot Camp

Boot Camp
Todd Strasser
Simon & Schuster, 2007

Boot Camp opens with Garrett in the back of his kidnappers’ car. He is not likely to be rescued, however, because his parents have authorized his removal from their home. Garrett has been making some questionable decisions: an affair with his teacher, skipping school, smoking pot, staying out all night. His parents cannot seem to stop him so they have him removed to a boot camp for troubled teenagers in upstate New York.

Garrett knows something about boot camps, but he’s not prepared for all of the abuse. It seems that as long as nobody makes marks, physical abuse is allowed, even encouraged. Garrett at first thinks he will be able to outwardly confess his misdeeds and work his way out of the camp in six months or so. After all, nobody understands his love for his teacher and the fact that they were meant to be together.

Garrett is soon taken to TI (Temporary Isolation) for a minor offense. In TI he is forced to lie face down on a concrete floor twenty-four hours a day for days, perhaps even weeks at at time. The goal is to break him, but Garrett is a hard nut to crack. He’s not going to break easily and the other option, death, is not pleasant either. He soon meets two other people, Pauly and Sarah, who are not likely to survive the camp and who are determined to try an escape to Canada where the authorities cannot get to them. Nobody has ever escaped successfully, but they feel it is their only chance and try to persuade Garrett to join them. It is a tough decision for Garrett – he still feels as though he can beat the system – but eventually he decides to go with them in a harrowing escape attempt.

I’ll admit to having some problems with this book, and quite frankly I don’t know where to start with my analysis. It is clear that Strasser is writing a cautionary tale and it is also clear that he has done some research to back up his claims that boot camps are scary places where kids are often abused, even at times until they die. I have no doubt that boot camps are not pleasant. I also have no doubt that kids are abused in the attempt to “straighten them out.” I do have problems, however, with the amount of sadism in some of the employees. It just was a bit too heavily laid on.

I also take issue with the fact that Strasser never really confronts the reason Garrett is sent to the camp. While I’m not advocating that boot camp is the right place for a kid such as Garrett (or for any kid for that matter), sleeping with your teacher, staying out all night, skipping school, and smoking pot are all wrong things to do and that is never really addressed. Instead I felt the reader is encouraged to feel that Garrett was justified in his actions because nobody really understands him.

All of that said, Boot Camp is a powerful book and I think that students will really enjoy it, and, perhaps, learn from it.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I know it's an old post but I just recently read the book. I agree with you that Garett's behaviour was questionable but I think the real cure would've been if the parents had spent more time with him and found him some more challenging school (not the fanciest in town).

Unfortunately, I didn't find the violence of the staff exaggerated. I read fornits forum a bit and they describe really harsh things there about behaviour modification facilities. Even if only half of what they claim is true, it is very disturbing.

Are you familiar with the Stanford prison experiment or the Milgram experiment? They showed how perfectly normal people are capable of inflicting violence on each other if they think their role or an authority figure demands it.

Staff in a boot camp probably deal with some very difficult kids and after a while it's difficult not to see every one of them in a negative light. Also in many of these facilities the personnel is underqualified.