Her most recent book is Be Prepared, and is an autobiographical-ish look at her first experience at a summer camp. Monthlong summer camp is a kind of east coast phenomenon that we don't have as much of out west--we have weeklong scout camps, high adventure camps, and in my part of the country (Utaaaaaah) we're basically one step away from camping at any given time anyway, so...it doesn't seem to happen as much. I know about "real" summer camps from movies and tv. Vera's experience seems to be very much like the kind of experience I would have.
Vera's growing up in the city, a Russian immigrant with a single mom and little brother. Mom does her best, but doesn't quite get American culture yet. In between that and the economic hardship of being a first generation immigrant, Vera doesn't quite fit in with the other girls in her class. She goes to some sleepovers and birthday parties, but her gifts don't measure up to the other gifts, her own birthday party isn't as upscale as other other girls' parties are.
When summer comes, all of the kids in her class go away to their own summer camps, and when the chance comes up for Vera and her brother to go to one, she's excited about finally being able to take part in the same ritual all of the other kids do. The camp she's going to is a Russian Orthodox summer camp, and the small pieces of that culture we get in the book made me feel like I was experiencing something different: the religious services that were a part of camp life; the borscht and other Russian dishes; pieces of Russian language and traditional songs that I don't know the tune to, but helped us understand Vera's balancing act between her two worlds.
Vera goes through most of camp surrounded by people who understand her culturally, but she still doesn't fit in. Her two tentmates are both named Sasha, are both infatuated with the same boy, and have both been going to the same camp for years. Vera is a newcomer, she's younger, and she's beneath their notice. Vera doesn't know the camp traditions, the songs, the routine...and doesn't really want to. The latrines are nightmares, the bugs are everywhere, and she doesn't know if she'll be able to make it two weeks until Mom comes to pick her up again.
Who of us hasn't been there? Brosgol channels her pre-teen angst and pours feelings into this book. We feel miserable alongside Young Vera, but we have older Vera as a narrator explaining things and maintaining some perspective. We also have bright moments of humor (including some gross latrine humor)(hey, it's camp!), and get to see Vera overcome some of her personal fears, her bullies, and find ways to make friends that will serve her well after camp ends.
This book is fun, funny, and even exciting--but more than anything, it reminds us what it's like to be a kid in this situation. Being a little bit different, trying to fit in, but also wanting to maintain your uniqueness. Vera Brosgol did an amazing job with Anya's Ghost -- Be Prepared is even better. I loved this book.