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Camilla by Madeleine L'Engle
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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
This is told in the first person from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old teenage girl who lives in New York. Camilla has been quite sheltered from adult problems, but we meet her when she starts to realise that her parents may be fallible, and that she is no longer a little girl...

Essentially it’s a coming-of-age story, about teenage worries, and first love. It feels quite modern in the way it discusses relationships and marriage problems, despite being written in 1965. There is a moving subplot about a young man with a serious disability after being in the war, and many references to astronomy and the idea of God. These are not preachy in any way, but from the point of view of two teenagers trying to decide what they believe, and why, with some unusual theories.

The descriptive and narrative writing is good, and I thought the insights into a teenage mind felt realistic. However I found the dialogue a bit stilted, and the story sometimes a little slow-moving. I found the ending inconclusive, and a little depressing.

Still, it was a pleasant read that could be of interest to younger teens as well as nostalgic adults. ( )
  SueinCyprus | Jun 27, 2016 |
I read this book many years ago, but recently decided to read it again. It has a lot of great descriptions and realistic characters and it covers some deep subjects, but sometimes it seemed a bit overdramatic. ( )
  writerfidora | Oct 26, 2015 |
A reviewer at the Saturday Review compared Camilla to The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield and Camilla Dickinson, the protagonists in question, are a bit like Romeo and Juliet: he gets some terrific lines and flails around memorably, but she's the one who grows and matures and doesn't have an ego so huge it could eat New York City without having to open its mouth all the way.


I don't understand why Camilla isn't better known. As in, it doesn't seem to be known at all. It's a beautifully written story, first published in 1951, about a girl becoming a woman. That doesn't mean sex or love or even deciding on a career, though she does experience her first romantic interest and physical attraction in the course of the novel, and she is quite decisive about becoming an astronomer. Womanhood means the end of childhood, and for Camilla that means understanding that her parents were not put on this earth simply to be Mother and Father to a solemn-eyed girl.

As Camilla puts it, "It is a much more upsetting thing to realize that your parents are human beings than it is to realize that you are one yourself."

The romance aspect of this novel hasn't aged well. Frank Rowan, the boy Camilla falls for and the brother of her best friend Luisa, is a dud. He's a pompous, self-important, patronizing, sexist pig. He treats Camilla like absolute garbage. He asks her questions and sneers at her answers, probably because all he wants from her is for her to say, "Oh, Frank, that's wonderful!" Which she generally does. It's painful.

Here's a perfectly representative passage. Frank has just spent the last million pages talking about his ideas about life, the universe, and everything. Seriously, his speeches go on for page-long paragraphs. I think he grows up to be John Galt. Anyway, he finally pauses for breath long enough to offer to take Camilla somewhere they can get a bite to eat.

But I wasn't hungry. I shook my head. "No. But you go on and have something if you want to."

"Me, you think I could eat?" Frank turned on me and his voice was suddenly savage. "You think I could eat when the minute you're born you're condemned to die? When thousands of people are dying every minute before they've even had a chance to begin? Death isn't fair. It's – it's a denial of life! How can we be given life when we're given death at the same time? Death isn't fair," Frank cried again, his voice soaring and cracking with rage. "I resent death! I resent it with every bone in my body! And you think – you think I could eat!"

He looked at me as though he hated me. He jammed a coin into the slot and pushed me ahead of him onto the New York-bound ferry and stood with his arms crossed in bitter and passionate anger. He did not look at me; he did not talk. Once when the ferry slapped into a wave and I was thrown against him he pulled away from me as though I repelled him.

Now, those thoughts about the people who never get anything like a shot at a real life are remarkably similar to my own teenage (and post-teen) rantings on the subject. But it's hard to have sympathy or empathy for Frank Who Thinks And Feels So Much More Deeply Than We Do That He Can't Eat when this is his response after he brought up food in the first place. His exact question was, "Want to go somewhere and have a frankfurter or something?" God only knows what he would have done if Camilla had said yes. Taken her on the ferry and promptly thrown her overboard, probably.

So, yeah, the parts with Frank are rough going. And the ending isn't happy, I'm not going to lie to you.

But if you were (or are) a kid who spent a lot of time wondering about the world and your place in it, and who went on walks at night hoping "to talk to someone else who wanted to be out all night walking too," and who would rather have one good friend you could talk about everything to than a bunch of friends who only ever chatted about boys and clothes – you could do a lot worse than read Camilla. Yes, it's a period piece; but so is Catcher, and Camilla's thoughts and struggles are often a lot more engaging than Holden Caulfield running around saying how phony everybody else is. ( )
  Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
I read this book many years ago, but recently decided to read it again. It has a lot of great descriptions and realistic characters and it covers some deep subjects, but sometimes it seemed a bit overdramatic. ( )
  AdrienneJS | May 18, 2015 |
Who would believe I would like and read a teenage love story from the girl's POV? Yet here it is, and I believe the reason I enjoyed it so much is the artistic crafting of Ms. L-Engle. The whole story set in New York City didn't hurt, either, as I knew most of the place names the players lattended. If I were a teenage girl, I'd probably give it the full five stars. Hee. Seriously, it just missed becasue of a slight drag effect that carried through the whole story. ( )
  andyray | Sep 18, 2009 |
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To Hugh Franklin
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I knew as soon as I got home on Wednesday that Jacques was there with my mother.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Originally published as Camilla Dickinson in 1951. Republished as Camilla in 1965.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0440911710, Paperback)

Life had always been easy for fifteen-year-old Camilla Dickinson.  But now her parents, whom she had always loved and trusted, are behaving like strangers to each other and vying for her allegiance.  Camilla is torn between her love for them and her disapproval of their actions.

Then she meets Frank, her best friend's brother, who helps her to feel that she is not alone.  Can Camilla learn to accept her parents for what they are and step toward her own independence?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:51 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Fifteen-year-old Camilla gains new maturity through her relationship with her best friend's brother and the growing realization that her parents are fallible individuals.

» see all 2 descriptions

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