Fourteen-year-old Loren is a special forces operative without a mission. Ever since he found out that his absent father was in Special Ops, Loren has been obsessed with the military. He knows survival skills, weaponry, explosives and tactics. The only problem? Too often, Loren's military expertise is aimed in the wrong direction, as when he lights a golf course on fire to rebel against a golf pro who is his mother's latest in a long, long string of short-term boyfriends.
This time, though, Loren's mother (not to mention her boyfriend) is fed up with Loren's aimless destruction. They sign him up for Camp Ascend!, a quasi-military wilderness camp that promises to turn troublemakers around in six weeks or less --- for a mere $17,000. Even before his mom leaves the parking lot, Loren is sure that there is something wrong with Camp Ascend! He has no idea just how twisted the camp is, though, until his mom is too far away to help him.
To start, there’s Ray Kellogg (a.k.a. the Colonel), the head of the place, who isn't really an ex-military man at all. He is more like an ex-con. There's his wife, Kitty, a high-maintenance lady who vents her frustration at being stuck in the sticks by ordering thousands of dollars of clothes and curtains through catalogs. And then there's Donovan, Kitty's no-good brother, who despises kids, hates the Colonel and has a sadistic streak.
Soon Loren is on the mission of a lifetime, figuring out which of the other campers he can trust, befriending some of them and discovering that maybe a mission can be more rewarding if you actually have something important to say.
It's hard to believe that DOGFACE is Jeff Garigliano's first novel. A magazine editor and former navy officer, Garigliano exhibits a facility for storytelling often found only in more experienced work. For about the first hundred pages, readers aren't sure whether to loathe Loren or root for him, whether to put the book down in disgust or keep reading in horrified fascination. After that, though, the choice is clear, and readers will find themselves just as caught up by the dark, twisted world of Camp Ascend! as are its wonderfully well-developed prisoners, er, campers.
Although DOGFACE is marketed as an adult novel, Garigliano's realistic, sympathetic portrayals of teenagers, as well as the story’s setting, would make this book an excellent, thought-provoking choice for mature young readers.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 18, 2008