Review: Camp Payback by J.K. Rock

Rating: 3.5 stars
Pub Date: April 29, 2014
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Genre: young adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: ARC, publisher
Status: Book 2 of the Camp Boyfriend series

Alex has big plans for camp this year, starting with making it the best summer ever. Having fun and breaking some rules will get her the payback she wants against her parents and her ex-boyfriend. Because of his disgusting texts, she's headed to a super strict all-girls school in the fall. Then she meets Javier and revenge doesn't seem nearly as important as getting to know the troubled loner determined to keep a low profile at camp. But Alex's trouble-magnet personality and Javier's need to stay in the background don't mix nearly as well as their irresistible chemistry. With her home life eroding under her feet and her last year of summer camp speeding to a close, Alex wants to make her mark on the world and squeeze every bit of fun out of her time with Javier. Too bad her old plans for revenge turn back on her just in time to ruin everything. Will she lose Javier too?

I wasn't sure what to expect the first time I picked up Camp Boyfriend, and it left me feeling really good when it turned out to be a great book. Then "Camp Christmas" blew my mind how much I loved it. this point, my expectations are pretty high with the books in this series. I've been waiting for Payback for months, and while I still enjoyed this fun, campy tale about summer camp, I wasn't as wowed by it.

I think the biggest reason why Payback didn't resonate with me as much as Boyfriend is that I identify much more with Lauren over Alex. There are just so many details, big and small, that had me understanding Lauren's experiences, while with Alex, my first impression of her was...let's say not very positive because I was a huge un-fan of her disloyalty to Lauren during Boyfriend. I know Lauren's story is resolved in Boyfriend, and her absence is explained, but I still missed her. Getting to live Alex's life in Payback...well, I definitely sympathize with her plight because, seriously, her parents are the worst, but I just couldn't empathize with her. I'm also less happy about her revenge plan because she basically uses Javier to try to make Vijay and her parents angry. I can't think of that idiom right now that I need to describe the situation, but it's like, things are already bad in Alex's opinion so she might as well make them as bad as possible.

Even though I don't identify with Alex very closely, she does display some serious gumption as well as some other amazing traits that I think are pretty wonderful. What characteristics I really DO respect Alex for are: A) her passion. She gets really excited about things, and she lets it take her over. When that happens, she makes magic happen, like with the movie and the play. B) her self-respect/confidence. Lauren was seriously lacking in confidence so it's nice to have a heroine who respects herself. Alex doesn't take crap from people, even from her friends and her family. She knows who she is, and she honors that. C) her ability to change. Part of the problem with being so confident is that it can morph into selfishness and self-centeredness, which Alex does. I don't want to give it all away, but Alex gets some not-so-great presents from her camp secret Santa. I agree with Alex that her Santa was being a jerk, but I also agree with the overall message her Santa was giving her: that she needs to focus outside of herself sometimes. Alex has some pretty amazing mature moments, and it's so great to read those. It was nice to see facets of Alex's personality that rounded her out from the flat boy-crazy girl she'd been in Boyfriend, and witness her becoming even more dynamic as she learned and grew.

Like with Alex, I'm not very connected to Javier as a character, but I do like him. He's a really nice guy, but he's not perfect, which is good because, hello, teenage boy. As cute as they are, none of them are perfect. Javier loves his mom. He's a hard worker. He's passionate about cooking nd GOOD at it. He stands up for what's right and can admit when he's wrong. However, he's also impulsive and more than a little proud. He's defensive and way too guarded. Overall, I think Javier is a good guy for Alex because he's a lot more grounded than she is, and he's pretty responsible. Together, they have a good balance.

As for the rest of our cast of characters, um, Vijay. He's nuts. I can't even figure out how I feel about his role in the book because I am just flabbergasted. I just want to call CPS and get the kid some help because apparently his parents (or at least his dad) are part of the problem, not the solution. Just...dang. I can't even. Still, I can't help but be a little bit satisfied that at one point (or maybe even a couple), he gets what's coming to him because, srsly, sexually harrassing your ex-girlfriend because she didn't have sex with you is NOT OKAY. So YAY for Joanne and Karen for hitting on this very important message, and for having OTHER MALE CHARACTERS REINFORCE IT! Please read my "Camp Christmas" review for all my thoughts on why Julian is awesome, but the fact that he's not okay with Vijay's utter douchey-ness just made me love him even more.

I admit I am very excited to read Camp Forget-Me-Not because we'll be crossing cabin lines and entering the Divas Den for real, not temporarily like in Boyfriend. I am excited about this because I think Kayla is really cool, but also, I'm kind of over the Munchie Manor girls. They really disappointed me in Boyfriend, but I willingly gave them another chance when they seemed to realize the error of their ways. However, after Camp Payback, I'm starting to realize they're just not very good friends. They spent much of Boyfriend being upset with Lauren and her superficial changes like her hair and braces and contacts and her new interest in dancing and her new boyfriend, all of which aren't really their business, nor should they be that important. Now in Payback, they spend the whole time throwing Alex under the bus, like not saving her bunk and not wanting to help in her play because they want to help Trinity flirt with Seth or some such nonsense (aside: I reallyreallyreallyreallyreally hope Seth's novella is not about him hooking up with Trinity. I'm sorry. I know it's been written, but I just keep hoping it won't happen. It's probably going to happen. Blarg). HELLO CAN YOU BE A LITTLE LESS JUDGMENTAL OF YOUR FRIENDS AND MORE SUPPORTIVE KPLZTHX. Just... UGH. There is nothing I dispise more in this world than disloyalty when it comes to friends. And the way they defer to the new girl, as if she's their leader. Um, how about no.

Thank goodness for the magic from the play, which I thought was just the right amount of silly for this book, which would have been a touch too serious without it. I think the play gave Alex the biggest opportunity to mature and experience something new, while simultaneously providing a catalyst to repair some of the friendship damage and emotional fallout that resulted from the more dramatic parts of the book. Much like the Earth Dance from Boyfriend, the play served as an opportunity for everyone to step over the invisible lines they created and maintaint by being so loyal to their cabin identities. This is definitely one part of the book I'd love to talk about in depth, but it's also one that I think is best left witnessed firsthand by reading.

I don't want you guys walking away from this review not wanting to read this book or, God forbid, not wanting to read the series because I really do enjoy it. There are so many lines and scenes that had me rolling on the floor because Joanne and Karen always inject shots of comic gold into their writing. Also, Alex and Javier's interactions are pretty wonderful. While Lauren grew up knowing Seth and had been with Matt for eight-ish months, we see the entirety of Alex and Javier's relationship, soup to nuts, breakfast burritos to Javier's delicious sounding chocolate-cinnamon pastries. Speaking of food, this book made me continually hungry, which is bound to happen when one character loves to cook. Hazard of the trade, I suppose. But back to Alex and Javier's relationship, I loved watching it progress and regress and progress again. While their individual circumstances are somewhat unusual and certainly extenuating, they're normal teens, and they act like it. They aren't perfect, and that makes their relationship entertaining to watch as well as fairly realistic in that regard. It's fun, it's flirty, it's occasionally downright sexy. There's laughter and tears and a dash or two of heartache, and what the Rock women actually cooked up was a fun summer read. I really do love this series, and I hope you will also give it a chance.

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About the Author:
J. K. Rock is the pseudonym for YA writing partners - and sisters-in-law - Joanne & Karen Rock. After years of comparing notes on their favorites books and films, often dreaming up new endings to suit them, they decided to write their own stories. Their first Young Adult book, CAMP BOYFRIEND, is the first in a three-book series. CAMP PAYBACK will be a Spring 2014 release, and CAMP FORGET-ME-NOT arrives in Summer 2014. Visit the Camp Boyfriend website at to learn more about the free novellas they are offering readers prior to each full length book. Individually, Joanne Rock is an award winning Harlequin author published in 26 countries and translated into 20 languages. Karen Rock's first Harlequin Heartwarming release, WISH ME TOMORROW, is a deeply emotional story of enduring love.

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  1. Mary!! I'm so wow-ed at this amazing review and we're so grateful to you for pointing out some of the cool bits :-). I'm going to have to read it-- again and again-- to remember some of the things that I enjoyed about Camp too. Seeing it through your eyes makes the whole story fresh again. Thank you so much for this! <3

  2. I've only barely touched this series but I do remember it being really cute. It sounds like a promising series to continue, so I'll be sure to do that :)