Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

CAMO GIRL, Interview with Author, Kekla Magoon

CAMO GIRL, Kekla’s tween novel, just out with Aladdin, is the story of sixth grade outcast Ella. Ella finds herself caught between her old best friend Zach, who is increasingly lost in a fantasy world, and a beckoning popular crowd. Her dilemma: she can only fit in if she leaves “Z” behind.

This story is notable for what you chose to leave out as much as what you included. Can you speak to that?
Yes, I left out Z’s official psychiatric diagnosis, and the name of Ella’s skin condition, which created camouflage-like lighter and darker patches on her face. Her POV was such a close one, that I didn’t think it was realistic for her to know Z’s diagnosis. And it wasn’t crucial to the story that I focus on the nature of Ella’s skin disorder. I preferred to concentrate on the ways that kids deal with trauma. Thus, the title CAMO refers to her skin’s light patches; but also to the ways that Ella hides from her budding social life, and how Zach uses his fantasy world to avoid working through his family trauma. Even Bailey, the new boy, who helps Ella take a chance on getting to know the popular kids, has a secret he’s hiding from. *no spoiler here!*

What theme in CAMO GIRL would you most like kids to come away with?
The feeling of self-acceptance, coming to terms with both your strengths and weaknesses. Also, I’d like kids to consider what it means to be a friend: it may mean keeping a friend’s secret, only to reveal it in time. Ella thought that keeping Z’s secret was helping him, but she learned that it ultimately hurt him by preventing him from getting treatment. Also, by remaining “loyal” to him, she stilted her own social growth. Kekla has vivid memories of the tension of trying to straddle two groups, who did not necessarily like each other. That’s why she jokes that this novel could be called How to Choose a Lunch Table.

Regarding humor, I love the feisty grandma. How did you think up her awesome name?
Funny you should ask. I was on a road trip and brainstorming with my friend about what I should name her. I sprinkled Splenda in my coffee, and read the label out loud. My friend said, “Sounds like an old lady’s name, but you’d never name the granny that.”
“Oh, yeah?” I replied. “Watch me!”

Are you more of a realistic fiction author or what?
I’m writing for the child that I was, who wanted to know more about how to negotiate the real world. In that sense, I’m a writer of realistic fiction. I realize, though, that fantasy also describes the real world, in allegorical terms. So who knows? I may try my hand at another genre if it’s the best vehicle for my theme.

What’s up next for you? And how can your readers stay updated?
I have two books coming out in 2012. The first is a YA with Holt, called 37 THINGS I LOVE. The second is FIRE IN THE STREETS, a middle-grade companion book to THE ROCK AND THE RIVER, (ALA Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award) published by Aladdin. Please stop by my website to say hello and get updates at:


  1. I have a skin condition. The big difference is mine was on my legs (and that was bad enough) not my face. It's tough. I love this concept!

  2. Nice interview. Who wouldn't love a grandma named Splenda?

  3. Catherine I saw your comment on my blog. Do you think when I translate this to 3rd person it might be usable?

  4. Yes, Beth! That's the trick that many f us use. Write in 1st person, and switch the "I"s to "she"s. Go for it.

  5. This book sounded really good. Lovely, lovely interview!

  6. Camo Girl is a fabulous read. Nice to know more about Kekla's process and how certain character attributes were chosen/or not chosen to be shared. Great interview, Catherine!

  7. It's so interesting that Kekla writes about the child that she was, and now as an adult, she adds new perspective on how to maneuver through the ups-and-downs of tweenhood. Love that she can do that with her writing.

  8. I'm always so grateful realistic YA writers of fiction and Camo Girl sounds exactly like the kind of book I can lose myself in. Thanks so much, Kekla for writing it, and thanks, Catherine for featuring the book on your super blog.