In spite of* my rather lackluster summer camp career—one week was not enough time for my immensely socially awkward 11-year-old self to enter into a single meaningful conversation, let alone develop a relationship more profound than the one I had with the suitcase of Doctor Who novelizations I dragged into the woods with me—I have a soft spot for stories about summer camp. I find the idea of a disparate group of people coming together and forming life-changing friendships immensely satisfying and romantic.
Una LaMarche’s Five Summers is about exactly that: A quartet of girls go to a co-ed summer camp together for five years, they love each other, support each other, swear undying loyalty and unending friendship...but then grow apart once they hit high school. Three years later, the four now-17-year-olds return to Camp Nedoba for a reunion, and amidst much drama, airing of old grievances and healing of heartache, they reconnect. It stars a cast of likable characters, and it’ll be a good pick for fans of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the like, but while it’s an enjoyable read, it’s also a somewhat forgettable one.
A few summer camp books that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon:
The Other Normals, by Ned Vizzini: A boy who’s really, really into role-playing games gets sent to a camp where gaming is forbidden...and promptly discovers a portal to the very realm that his favorite game is based on. Smart, off-the-wall funny, thoughtful, exciting, awesome multiverse mechanics and a great coming-of-age story to boot. Loved. It.
The Girls of No Return, by Erin Saldin: Technically, this one isn’t set at a summer camp, but at a wilderness camp/school for girls who’ve made one too many bad choices. It has many of the same hallmarks as a traditional Summer Camp read, though, except that it’s more of a tragedy than a heartwarming story about friendship. Emotionally intense, suspenseful, with a nuanced and utterly believable narrative voice, this was one of my favorite books of 2012.
The Order of the Poison Oak, by Brent Hartinger: This title is going on 10 years old, but I continue to wish that these books had a wider audience, so here I am, doing my part to spread the word. In this, the second book in the Russel Middlebrook series, Russel and his best friends work as counselors at a summer camp, and there are hijinks and there is romance and it’s smart and funny and touching and sweet and I just love it.
The Goats, by Brock Cole: This is another older title—it was first published almost 30 years ago!—but it’s absolutely unforgettable. It is—and I’m really not being hyperbolic here—the summer camp story to end all summer camp stories...well, if you like your summer camp stories brutally painful. Two campers are subjected to a cruel hazing ritual, so they run away, determined to get home on their own. What starts as a story about two bullied outsiders turns into a story about two survivors who are more resourceful than their tormentors would have ever thought possible. A must-read for anyone who thinks that ’80s YA was all Sweet Valley High and Beatrice Sparks.
Those are my favorites, and I’m sure you’ve got one: Let me hear about it in the comments!
*Or maybe because of?
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.