The Story: [From GoodReads:]
When Gloria sets out to spend the summer before her senior year at a camp for gifted and talented students, she doesn’t know quite what to expect. Fresh from the heartache of losing her grandmother and missing her best friend, Gloria resolves to make the best of her new circumstances. But some things are proving to be more challenging than she expected. Like the series of mysterious clues left by a certain Professor X before he even shows up to teach his class, Secrets of the Written Word. Or the very sweet, but very conservative, roommate whose coal-industry family champions mountaintop removal. Not to mention the obnoxious Mason, who dresses like the Mad Hatter and immediately gets on Gloria’s nerves — but somehow won’t escape her thoughts.
My Take: I was first drawn to this book due to its lovely cover (plus blue is my favorite color!). Judging by the blurb, I was ready to enjoy a fun, summery read about characters who attend a camp for academically talented students where they meet and bond in a local diner. What a fun idea! But in reality, this novel is a rather predicable summer camp story that quickly falls prey to YA stereotypes.
Story-wise, this novel focuses on Gloria and her time at a (fictional) college-sponsored Genius Camp, which is open to gifted students across the state of Kentucky. Even though I marked this as a DNF (did not finish), there were still a few elements I liked. For starters, I respected the fact that the author did not employ the stereotype of the dumb hick/redneck/hillbilly, which is what I was expecting for a story set in Kentucky. For some reason, Kentucky and other Southern states seem to get the brunt of bad publicity as the people who live there are often assumed to be or portrayed as overweight, uneducated, good with farm animals, and lacking proper dental hygiene and shoes. While that does hold true for some people from the South (as well as other places in the U.S.), it certainly isn’t true for everyone, and this novel rightfully recognizes that. So for that, I was glad and it was something I appreciated.
Also, Gloria at times is a fun protagonist who, while often showing her age, at least harbors an appreciation for things most teen girls might pass off as old fashioned. She enjoys good books (among her favorites is To Kill a Mockingbird); cherishes fond memories of her grandmother; and keeps a scrapbook of interesting things and tidbits she runs across, thus showing she’s someone who notices and cares about the small details in life. Though she still acts immature at times, this small aspect to her personality was endearing and enjoyable.
Unfortunately, that’s where my more positive remarks have to end. Granted, I didn’t think Breakfast Served Anytime was a horrible novel, but its cover, blurb, and even its title seemed to promise one thing while the story itself offered up something completely different. Most of the action doesn’t occur in a diner; breakfast doesn’t come into play much; and the promise of a fun, magical, summer camp story soon slips into a teenage drama tale. Thus, your enjoyment of this novel really depends on the type of story you’re expecting to read versus the story you actually do read and whether or not that’s your cup of tea (or orange juice, as we are talking breakfast here).
For starters, this novel relies heavily on stereotypes but does nothing to try to subvert or even poke fun at them (perhaps à la Napoleon Dynamite). Gloria, to her credit, doesn’t always behave as a stereotypical teen, but some of her actions and reactions are a bit puzzling (though perhaps these are to emulate the way real teens can act and think). For instance, the first time Gloria spies Mason, a fellow camper who dresses like the Mad Hatter, she immediately hates him. But why? Gloria never really explains herself as to why she’s filled with so much contempt for a total stranger who just happens to dress strangely. Yet later on she changes her tune, also with no rhyme or reason, and starts up a relationship with him. In the same way, Gloria gets into a tearful discussion about mountaintop removal with her father. Though this scene occurs after an argument with some of her roommates, her emotional response seemed a bit extreme. Again, perhaps this was intended to depict how teens sometimes make snap judgments yet at the drop of a hat amend their perceptions as well as overreact. But to me, as an adult reader, some of Gloria’s actions just struck an irksome chord.
As previously mentioned, the rest of the cast relies heavily upon tropes: the loud-mouthed, sassy Black girl; the short-haired, wise-cracking lesbian; the down-home farm boy; the odd artist; the eccentric professor; the giddy friend; etc. And, of course, these interactions are rife with drama that came across as so juvenile and over the top at times that I just couldn’t finish the novel. For instance, I understand these are supposed to be academically bright students, but what teenagers are honestly going to get into emotional tiffs about the coal industry and mountaintop removal? Perhaps such exchanges might have been more believable if the characters acted more mature for their age but, as they seemed content to behave as angsty, drama-loving teens, this deviation into more serious topics was too stark of a switch.
I also thought the novel would have been improved if it had subverted the stereotypes it portrayed. Why does a Black female character have to be loud and sassy? Why not have a Black female character who is quiet but wise and introspective? Why does the lesbian have to sport short hair and be a big mouth? Not all women with short hair and/or who are unafraid to speak their minds are lesbians (most probably aren’t!). Why does the down-home farm boy have to act like the humble, nature-loving boy-next-door? Why not make him eccentric or even highbrow, which would have offset his bucolic roots? And so on and so forth. Even Mason, who at least does stand out thanks to his odd fashion choices and thespian ways, is simply a fill in for the odd artist trope and doesn’t develop much beyond this scope despite his attempts to kindle a bond with Gloria. For me, such variations with the usual teen tropes would have made this a far more compelling read.
And it’s not just the teens who are subjected to stereotyping here. One lead adult character, the enigmatic Professor X, is basically your run-of-the-mill eccentric professor caricature. (So any images of awesomeness you have of Patrick Stewart as Professor X from the X-Men movies, just cast those aside. Though that is the mental image I instantly defer to when I see the name Professor X.) Granted, he doubles as a single dad but even that does little to set him apart from similar stock characters. As it were, Professor X teaches a camp class called Secrets of the Written Word, which at first sounds really cool (and, being a writer, I was excited to read a story where characters attend a writing class). Yet, for me, this concept fell a bit flat, chiefly because the students spend more time delving into their respective personal dramas than trying to come up with anything insightful or profound.
In fact, that becomes a glaring issue with this novel: it certainly seems like it wants to be profound and have something meaningful to say, yet it never quite reaches to that level. The novel opens with what appears to be a fascinating motif – a blue butterfly. Gloria even admits she looks for signs and omens and considers these butterflies as such though she isn’t sure what they might mean. Thus, the reader, along with Gloria, assumes the novel will run with this idea and eventually connect something to the butterflies (such as freedom, new life, etc. in relation to Gloria’s development as a character). Yet by the novel’s midway point, the butterfly image is all but abandoned and never gets finalized in any way (and I skimmed the rest of the book just out of curiosity). Instead, it’s just a neat opening image that eventually goes nowhere. That’s kind of a shame because I think a novel like this that follows a tried-and-true camp story formula really needed something to make it stand apart, and something such as an insightful motif would have helped. Yet once it delves into teenage antics, angst, and drama, it never quite recovers.
Content: Despite its cover indicating that it’s for ages 12 and up, this novel is ideally for older teens and adults. (Please note that I stopped reading about 50% in and then skimmed the rest of the book, so it’s possible there may be additional content issues I don’t know about.)
Language – Profanity abounds at times, including PG and PG-13-level words (sh– is the most prevalent) and a few allusions to the f-word, though it’s never actually used or spelled out to the best of my memory.
Violence -None. Some characters get into heated discussions but these don’t lead to any physical altercations.
Sexual Content – To the best of my knowledge there were no sex scenes, but one character eventually comes out as a lesbian and some characters who purport to believe in sexual abstinence before marriage seem a bit lax in that approach though I don’t believe anything further ever occurs.
Drug/Alcohol Content – Professor X apparently likes to smoke marijuana as one student spies him with drug paraphernalia though (based on what I can recall) he doesn’t try to offer or sell any of it to his students.
Overall, Breakfast Served Anytime was a real letdown. It relies too heavily upon cliches and stereotypes and doesn’t try very hard to break from these molds. Some of the novel’s aspects are interesting, such as Gloria’s scrapbook and a few small scenes related to Professor X’s class, but the bulk of the setting is the usual summer camp story and the tropes that go along with it. In the end, this just wasn’t for me, but readers who enjoy relationship-focused stories – as opposed to stories that are more plot-driven – might find more to savor here. However, if you’re expecting an eccentric twist to the usual summer camp story, you just might walk away feeling a bit disenchanted and disappointed.