The place was a total dive. Dirty log walls and rusting metal furniture gave off a homeless shelter vibe—nothing like the fat camp my mom sent me to last summer. I mean, that place looked and felt expensive. And the chunky, bald guy across the desk from me was no fitness instructor. Crooked, black framed certificates hung on the wall behind him. The seal on one of them said American Psychological Association.
Something wasn’t right. My mom had been vague. She made it sound like she was sending me off to some kind of leadership camp, but the kids waiting outside this office didn’t look like Model UN material. And what kind of leadership camp starts with a psych eval? My palms began to sweat.
Wherever she is, 17-year-old Jasmine Fuentes is sure of one thing: she doesn’t belong. And when she finds out that place is wilderness therapy, a behavioral healthcare program that throws Jasmine and a bunch of other delinquents and freaks into the wild to forage and fend for themselves, she’s not having it. But the more she tries to prove she doesn’t need High Sierra, the tougher things get for her. Forced to confront her past and current relationships, Jasmine finally comes to understand who she is—and how maybe everyone needs a little help sometimes.
Adrienne Quintana understands teens, and the protagonist’s nasty nicknames for her misfit peers (“Backwoods Barbie,” “Pizza Face,” “Spud Boy”) will ring all too true for anyone who has ever suffered the slings and arrows of adolescence. Even when Jasmine’s lack of self-confidence shows her at her most petty, she remains a sympathetic character because she’s so real.
Quintana’s fast-paced adventure pits Jasmine against nature as the teen queen confronts bad weather, local wildlife, and literal and figurative stumbling blocks in the last place on earth she wants to be: “We have rocks in New Jersey,” she says sardonically. “But we also have street lights.” There’s also the issue of “Abercrombie,” the hot trail guide with the too-perfect smile who makes Jasmine blush . . . usually because he’s just caught her doing something stupid.
At the heart of the book, however, is the story of Jasmine coming to terms with herself and evolving from a spoiled princess who’d rather be poolside to a capable, empathetic young woman who knows that there is strength in vulnerability. High Sierra is a great read for teens—or for anyone who has ever felt a little out of place.