I had the pleasure of meeting Sara through work, and let me tell you, she is an amazing individual. Every bit of that comes through in this, her first published novel. I truly hope she writes (and publishes) more.
I think of it as a unique type of the 'coming of age' novel, where the main character grows in their understanding of the world around them and their place in it due to some unexpected event. It is unique because not only does Brynn grow herself, but most that interact with her also have these same experiences. Much like reality, there are others in the story that do NOT grow, and they only have themselves to blame. In telling the story, Sara manages to cover several topics of interest to the YA crowd: Interacting with people who are not quite themselves and alcohol abuse by teenagers. These are heavy topics, but are not presented to the reader like being hit with a sledgehammer - they are presented in very realistic situations that are well integrated into the plot and are not the least bit preachy. I think this should be required reading material for a Jr. High student.
The novel is well edited and formatted.
Why 4 Stars: The beginning of the book, pre-camp, seems a bit slow. We are presented with a first-person perspective of a character we don't know, interacting with people we don't know. We get more information about those people than Brynn herself. Sure, many of Brynn's personality traits come through, but we really don't REALLY get to know Brynn until she arrives in camp. I'd like to have seen the novel start with Brynn and her parents preparing for camp, and present the rest of the pre-story as flashbacks once we got to know Brynn a bit more (after the introduction of DAISY). If you think it is slow at the beginning, keep going, as it gets amazing after Brynn's arrival at camp.
SPOILER ALERT!!! Please do not read these until you have read the novel. I tried not to spoil all that much, but in talking about characters and their growth, reading my opinions may decrease your enjoyment of the novel as it progresses. Feel free to challenge me in the comments.
The head of the camp, JT, is quite an interesting character. First year on the job. Speech on the first day about the seriousness of the camp rules. Introduction of the DAISY (Discovering and Accepting Individuality in Society and Yourself) program. Yet, JT has absolutely no true understanding of this concept (or the rules), and absolutely none of his own 'coming of age' experience. I'm disappointed to see him just hanging out there unenlightened. Perhaps we'll see more of him, with some growth, in the future.
Brynn's cabin-mates and Christine. These characters pretty much behaved exactly as expected in the presence of someone like Brynn.
I can write a ton about Jonah. Everyone knows someone or two just like him. No growth, no desire for growth, no personal sense of responsibility to himself or others. He got off easy, but people like him tend to.
I'm not sure Tommy really grew all that much during the book, and he didn't need to. Tommy became who he is because of events that happened between camp last year and this year. He tried his best to make others grow a bit, but like reality, mere words do not cause personal growth - it is much more complex than that. Sure, he did grow a little, but it was not a coming of age moment for him.
Tommy's cabin-mates. These were the best. Why? Because they had a very realistic response. These folks chose not to interact with Brynn, even when their initial misconceptions were probably already dispelled by Tommy. They had a partial enlightenment, but while they are 'improved' at the end of the novel, it was only superficial, and thus flawed. The conversation about them between Brynn and Christine at the end was excellent. Far too many people today make just a very superficial change about their viewpoint but lack the ambition to take it to the next level of understanding - just like these kids do.