"We stop before a tall chain-link fence topped with loops of razor wire. A man steps out of a small white booth and shines a flashlight into the car. Rebecca shields her eyes from the glare. I have to turn my face. The man seems to recognize Harry. He unlocks the gate and we drive through, past a dark basketball court and a bare flagpole, and pull into a gravel parking lot.
" 'Here we are.' Harry jumps out of the car with unexpected energy after the long ride. He comes around to my door and pulls me out with a firm grip. After sitting in that awkward position for so long, my legs and back are stiff, and I straighten up unsteadily. But I also feel a brief wave of relief, as standing temporarily takes the excruciating pressure off my bladder, which has felt near bursting for at least half an hour. I shake out my legs and glance around.
" 'Trust me, blue blood, don't be thinking about running, Harry warns. 'Even if you got through the fence, there's nothing but forest out there. You're so far away from civilization, you'll starve before you see another human being.'
"The air is cool and smells like pine. The chatter of the crickets is almost as loud as traffic on a city street. In the dark I can make out four or five buildings, none more than two stories tall.
"Then the crickets go silent.
"And I hear the screaming."
As Todd Strasser explains in his Afterword, there is a secret prison system for teenagers in the U.S. Any parent with enough money can place his or her child in this prison system for any reason or for no reason. The facilities are called boot camps. The methodology in these prison camps can include physical and psychological torture, along with total isolation from people and information out in the real world. Instead, the prison becomes the world. Some of these facilities have now been established outside of the U.S. in order to avoid any possibility of government oversight.
These boot camps yield big bucks for their owners. With what they are being paid each month by parents, there is no financial incentive to have kids "graduate" until they are irrevocably broken down psychologically, and thoroughly trained to listen and obey without question. And it pays to do whatever it takes to give the parents satisfactory results.
In Todd Strasser's BOOT CAMP we share the nightmare experience of Garrett Durrell which begins when his parents have him kidnapped and delivered to Lake Harmony, a boot camp in Upstate New York. Garrett is a gifted and talented adolescent who knows how to maintain the 3.8 average he needs from his exclusive private school -- in order to gain acceptance to a name-brand university -- without breaking a sweat. But his parents apparently fear the tarnishment of their posh reputations due to Garrett's refusal to terminate his relationship with a young woman who had been a new teacher at his school (until his mother got her fired).
" 'You're just a punk kid with a crap attitude, and you don't know squat. When are you gonna figure out that what you think doesn't matter. The only things that matter are what I think and what your parents think. That's why you're here, Garrett. Because you didn't listen to your parents. And that's what you're going to think about in TI, dimwit. Learning to listen. Learning to obey. Learning to do what your parents say.'
"The troll shoves me into the TI room and follows in with Ron and Jon. Joe remains in the doorway.
" 'No marks,' Joe says, and closes the door.
" 'Face down on the floor,' the troll orders.
"I do as I'm told, and then Jon and Ron get to work. They spit and slap and twist and squeeze. Everything that hurts but will leave no telltale bruises tomorrow. I grit my teeth, trying not to let them have the satisfaction of knowing how much pain I'm in, but grunts and yelps escape my lips whenever the stabbing, twisting agony becomes too great. They grind the heels of their shoes into my knees and elbows. Only Level Ones through Fours are required to wear flip-flops, allegedly to slow us down in case we try to run away. Level Fives and Sixes are rewarded by being allowed to wear shoes.
" 'Stop!' I hear myself cry when Ron twists my arm so hard, it feels like it will explode out of the shoulder socket.
"Standing near the door with his arms folded and a demented smile on his lips, the troll asks, 'What's the matter, Garrett? Can't take a little pain?'
" 'I'd like to see you take it.'
" 'WHAT?' the troll shouts. At the same moment Ron twists my arm harder.
" 'Sorry, sir!' I instantly apologize and feel relief as Ron eases up.
" 'You better be,' the troll murmurs.
"The beating stops, and I feel my aching body go limp. Sabrina, if you knew what I'm going through...
" 'Good work, boys.' The troll praises Ron and Jon as they leave, and the door slams shut and locks. So this is how they do it here. The staff can't be accused of harming kids because they have other kids do it for them. And why would Ron and Jon agree? Because you don't get out of Lake Harmony unless you prove whose side you're on."
You have to wait years for Todd Strasser to finish another YA novel, but the wait is worth it. As with GIVE A BOY A GUN and CAN'T GET THERE FROM HERE, Strasser has once again written one of those books that grabs you by the throat and slams you into a wall.
I challenge any adolescent reluctant reader to read a few chapters of this one and then try to put it down.