A teenager at an East Texas summer camp in 1974 gets involved in a racial dispute in McCandless’ (Sour Lake, 2011) second novel.
The peace-and-love ’60s has devolved into the drug-addled ’70s, and 14-year-old high school student Tommy Lothrup is trying to navigate his way through a confused world. When his parents go off on a summer business trip, he’s sent to Camp Alexandra, known as “Alex,” a seedy summer camp that divides campers into two competing Native American tribes. Although many consider him a longhaired, pot-smoking hippie, Tommy quickly gains a reputation as a cerebral sort and wins friends. He meets a young African-American girl named Alyssha, who works in Alex’s kitchen, and the two become friends, although Tommy hopes that it’s more than just platonic. Unfortunately, racial prejudice is alive and well in East Texas and Tommy finds himself having to try to defuse a bad situation before something terrible happens. McCandless has crafted a multilayered novel. On the one hand, it may bring back memories of high school and holding onto one’s youth while moving relentlessly toward adulthood. On another level, the book is a searing examination of the insidious ways that racial hatred destroys people and relationships. The book also offers a nostalgic trip for anyone who ever attended summer camp and provides a clear snapshot of 1974. Readers who lived then will recognize such references as Boone’s Farm strawberry wine and the popular book Chariots of the Gods?. McCandless also provides engaging descriptions—“The stars skipped around me like living things”—and fills the book with humor: “Jack burped. I called, and raised.” Although the story takes place more than 40 years ago, it’s one that still has relevance in America today.
An evocative, nostalgic coming-of-age tale and examination of bigotry.