________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 1 . . . . September 8, 2000

cover The Liberty Circle.

Phil Campagna.
Toronto, ON: Napoleon Publishing, 2000.
242 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 0-929141-69-5.

Grades 8 - 11 / Ages 13 - 16.

Review by Joanne Peters.

*** /4

Corey Copeland is 16, and life in the Flats is, well, . . . flat. Mom is an alcoholic, Dad is unemployed, and Corey's older brother, Marty, drifts in and out of the family, jobs, and relationships. Captain Nemo's, a local video arcade, offers respite from reality - that, and Corey's wealthy girlfriend, Lisa, daughter of socialites with a social conscience. So, when Corey sees an advertisement for "Camp Liberty - ten acres of paradise on the shores of Liberty Lake" and the offer of "non-stop action from the moment you arrive" along with "a learning experience that will benefit you the rest of your life" (pp. 7-8), he is definitely interested. Sponsored by Peter Gunnarsson, owner of Captain Nemo Entertainment, Corey boards the bus that takes him on a six hour-long bus ride to the pine-clad paradise.


The door burst open with a suddenness that made me leap.

"Brother!" the entrant practically screamed, "you're going to miss your meal!"

I looked up to see a yellow-shirt standing in the doorway, a skinny, knob-kneed camper from hell.

"Thanks," I muttered, rubbing my head where I'd struck the low ceiling. "I think I'm more tired than hungry, though."

"Oh, but Brother, it's more than just a meal! It's a rally for new arrivals. It's a great, big, welcoming . . ." he fumbled for words. " . . . group hug!" (p. 42)

Camp Liberty is a training camp for white supremacists, Gunnarsson reveals himself to be a dangerous neo-Nazi, and Corey experiences all of the tactics used to break down resistance and destroy individualism: sleep deprivation, rallies, chanting, group-think, poor nutrition. In no time, Corey is soliciting funds for a phony foundation, betraying a long-time friend, estranging himself from family, and committing acts of vandalism and violence. It's not often that a car accident turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to a person, but, in Corey's case, a hit and run accident hospitalizes him, bringing him the physical and psychiatric care that he desperately needs.
    The speed at which Corey gets sucked into the vortex of a racist cult is terrifying, and, on first reading, hard to believe. But, as I thought about it, I realized that this was one needy kid, and the Liberty Circle offered things that he needed: a sense of belonging, escape from home. Pair these with sophisticated brain-washing techniques, and you have rapid conversion to solidarity with Aryan thugs. In many ways, The Liberty Circle was a frightening book: I found the racist epithets far more disturbing than the profanity typical of many older teenagers, and the violence of Gunnarsson's "Brashboys" was shocking. At times, it seemed as if, despite his best intentions, the author descended into stereotypes: Lisa, the wealthy girlfriend, seemed to be "slumming" and Ranji, the Pakistani immigrant who worked the counter at Nemo's, was over the top. Still, the book teaches serious lessons about the nature of racism, the power of people like Peter Gunnarsson, and the vulnerability of adolescents. A worthwhile addition to fiction collections serving upper middle school and senior high school grades.


Joanne Peters is the teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364