Nick’s lesbian sister, Diana, is dead and his parents are sending him to a weeklong “Jesus camp” at the suggestion of his homophobic, evangelical sister, Charlotte.
The 15-year-old narrates his tale with humor, cynicism, and self-deprecation. A self-proclaimed grammar aficionado—who even publicly corrects a pastor—his language abounds with colloquialisms. However, from the moment he is forced to exchange his grammar-nerd T-shirt for one proclaiming, “Happiness Happens Here!” readers empathize with his plight. The portrayal of camp is farcical and hilarious, with counselors dressing as people from the Bible, including a prostitute, an apostle, disciples, and an adulteress, and campers literally dragging around crosses for rule infractions. Typical summer camp activities and teenage angst are skillfully woven into Nick’s journey, which begins with grief and a guilty secret. The stakes grow higher when a box containing campers’ and counselors’ private confessions—including Nick’s—goes missing and Nick is suspected. As he attempts to find the box and its thief, Nick enjoys witty repartee and serious conversations with fellow camper Natalie, “the prettycute Bandana Girl.” The novel’s title refers to another noteworthy quirk in this original story: Nick sees, hears, and converses with 1950s Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac, beloved by his late sister, who first appeared to him following her funeral. Major characters follow a white default.
An impressive debut novel that entertains while encouraging the questioning of all assumptions. (Fiction. 14-18)