This elegantly crafted story features strong writing and solid characterizations of both main and secondary characters. Ella and Bailey’s racial identity is one element in a full and richly textured narrative. An out-of-the-ordinary setting—just outside of Las Vegas—and the nuanced picture of young teens and families under stress make this an outstanding follow-up to Magoon’s Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning debut, The Rock and the River (2009).
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Ella and Z have been friends forever, but Z’s always been the “weird kid” in their class. This was okay back in 3rd or 4th grade, but by now their other friends have ditched them both. Z doesn’t care, but Ella longs to be part of a group where people won’t make fun of her.
When a new boy, Bailey, moves to town, he befriends Ella because they’re the only two black kids in the 6th grade. Bailey’s popular–popular enough to make Ella cool and give her a wider circle of friends–but only if she stops hanging out with Z. Ella faces a difficult decision: remain loyal to the boy who has been her best and only friend forever…or embrace the opportunity to become one of the popular kids as she longs to be.
But Ella’s loyalty to Z–and the secrets they share–runs deep below the surface. Is friendship with Bailey a true solution to her struggle, or just a flash in the pan? Ella’s decision will affect not just her but everyone around her. Can she make the right choice?
Ella’s coming-of-age narrative reveals her growing awareness of the complexities of life and the burdens each person carries. Magoon writes with insight, wit, and compassion. Characters are appealing; action is well paced; and adolescent angst is palpable. Although Ella’s skin condition and Z’s psychological problems are not clearly defined, the trauma of both is conveyed. Ella is caught between a desire to hang out with Bailey and the popular crowd or remain loyal to eccentric Z, and her actions, musings, and guilt will resonate with readers. –Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC
—School Library Journal
“Man, did I fall in love with this book. It was the most honest and authentic narrative of feeling like an outsider I’ve ever read. I felt such a strong connection to all three characters in
Magoon (The Rock and the River) offers a sensitive and articulate portrayal of a pair of middle-school outsiders. Sixth-graders Zachary (“Z”) and Ella are longtime friends, loners who have bonded over the loss of their fathers. On their own, they refer to themselves as Sir Zachariah and Lady Eleanor, using the trappings of royalty and chivalry to steel themselves against real-life bullies at their all-white school, who call biracial Ella “Camo-Face” and consider Z, who is extremely immersed in his fantasies, to be “reality-challenged.” When another black student, Bailey, begins attending their school and shows an interest in Ella, it challenges her friendship with Z, casting a new light on his behavior and vulnerability. Ella’s relationships–with her mother, grandmother, Bailey, and Z–are especially well rendered; the decisions Ella must make regarding Z are all the more poignant as she herself has seen a close friend become an ex-friend in recent years. This poetic and nuanced story addresses the courage it takes to truly know and support someone, as well as the difficult choices that come with growing up.
Using a relatively sparse cast of characters, Magoon manages to draw a highly nuanced picture of friendship, loss, bullying, and self-discovery. Zooming in on the small connections and interactions that make up a life, the author paints a realistic story that stands as testament to the powerful emotions, intense loyalties, and betrayals distinctive of the middle school experience. With grace and sensitivity, Magoon illuminates Z’s emotional problems, showing some of the ugly and unbelievably sad manifestations of trauma in children. Extremely short chapters (56 in the 218p. novel) offer welcome breaks, making this a great transitional novel for kids turned off by more intimidating traditional formats. Timely references to various types of loss, i.e., cancer, post-traumatic stress, an absent father, will resonate with readers. This book is something rare and special and is endowed with a rich transcendent quality reminiscent of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia. In a book ultimately about the secrets we keep from each other and ourselves, readers will find a friend in Ella as she shows us all what it means to be utterly, brightly and brilliantly human.
—Edge Book Reviews
The girl on the cover looks like you. Is this a true story?
No. Camo Girl is not a true story. Ella is a made-up character, and so are all the other people in her life. The things that happen to her in the story did not happen to me. That is the simple answer. If you’re looking for a more complicated answer, here it is: Since I’m the person who made Ella up, some of her thoughts, feelings, and experiences are similar to thoughts, feelings, and experiences that I had when I was in sixth grade. I remember being teased for being different, and it was hard. I also remember wanting very badly to have good friends. I wrote Camo Girl to try to capture those feelings, but it’s easier to do that with a fictional character because telling true stories exactly the way they happened doesn’t usually make a very good novel.
What is the name of Ella’s skin condition?
I chose not to name Ella’s skin condition in the novel because I want my readers to be able to picture Ella any way they want. Some readers assume Ella has vitiligo, a dermatological condition that causes skin pigment to fade in patches over time. Others believe that Ella has birthmarks, or clustered freckles, or a very minor discoloration that becomes exaggerated in her own mind. One reader even told me he thought there was nothing wrong with Ella’s face at all, and that her self-consciousness about her different appearance is a metaphor for being biracial. For me, the cause of Ella’s different-colored skin doesn’t matter, because the most important thing is how she feels on the inside. Part of Ella’s journey is to grow comfortable with who she is and how she looks—if I labeled her with a certain condition, readers might expect her to seek treatment for the discoloration, and I did not want any part of the story to be about trying to “fix” her face. The important people in Ella’s life accept her exactly the way she is—without looking for explanations or hoping to change her, and that is lovely to me. I hope my readers can do the same. And hopefully Ella will grow to see herself that way, too.
What is really wrong with Z?
It’s hard for me to answer this question fully without some spoilers, but I’ll try. Z lives in a fantasy world, which Ella accepts about him, but much of his behavior in the book is quite strange. Readers speculate that Z might be affected by Asperger’s Syndrome, or autism, or one of any number of emotional or psychological disorders. Maybe. But at least part of what affects Z is a form of post-traumatic stress, caused by the sudden and difficult changes to his family and home life. He protects himself from the harsh realities he faces by spinning fantasies that make him feel good. I chose not to “diagnose” Z in the course of the book, mainly because the story is told from Ella’s perspective. She would not necessarily know what teachers, administrators and doctors might be saying about Z. Ella accepts Z’s differences just like he accepts hers.