Confession: I love summer camp. Love it. I went every summer as a kid, and as an adult, I spent four summers working at various Girl Scout camps. (I’m still volunteering occasionally at one this summer, when time allows.) And, of course, I love YA lit. So you’d think that I would love YA books about summer camp!
Well, mostly, I don’t, and here’s why: all the children’s and YA books I’ve read about camp so far are wrong. First of all, they are always about the kinds of fancy, expensive camps where kids stay in cabins. Also, they are always about co-ed camps. I acknowledge that expensive, co-ed camps exist. But I went to the kind of Girl Scout camp where you sleep in platform tents and make weird little crafts out of pine cones. As an adult working at Girl Scout camp, I learned just how tight the budget is at those camps. The reason we made crafts out of pine cones are because pine cones are free and we’ve already spent our summer budget on glue and marshmallows.
I literally laughed out loud (repeatedly) at the plot of Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, which involves Camp Rock being outshone by the bigger, fancier Camp Star. The problem with that is that Camp Rock is a friggin’ ridiculously nice camp. (I briefly Googled to try to find images of their camp so I could show you, but all I came up with were lots of pictures of the Jonas Brothers pouting in nature. But let me just tell you that in their very nice, wood-paneled dining hall, the juice comes out of trumpet-shaped dispensers. Do you even know how much craft glue you could buy for the cost of one trumpet-shaped juice dispenser?)
Anyway, so YA books about camp tend to focus on the drama of life at a long-term, co-ed camp. (Or, a single-sex camp with another single-sex camp across the lake. These camps always have huge, beautiful lakes.) Usually they are romances that spring up amidst cushy cabins. Bah! Also, they are always doing weird shit like Color Wars. What even is a Color War? BAH. Books about camp never focus on what I love about camp: the friendships, the creativity that comes up when you’re bored in your tent with no electricity, the delight in gaining prowess at new skills, and (yes) spending time in nature.
I did find a camp book that I actually kind of liked (even though it was still wrong):
It’s the story of sixteen-year-old Sydney, a girl with divorced parents whose mother is fed up with her and whose dad is a strict “live off the land” type. Sydney gets sent to live with her father for the summer, shortly after discovering that she is pregnant. She’s afraid to tell her father, and he sends her off to an intense wilderness camp without the summer, completely unaware of her pregnancy. It’s a co-ed camp (drama!) and one of the boys happens to be the start of a Dawson’s Creek-esque TV-show (double drama!) and some of the boys are sent from a juvenile detention center (triple drama!). The teens get sent off on long canoe trips. To Sydney’s surprise, she really enjoys canoeing and being outdoors, and she enjoys the teamwork of canoeing. She also spends a lot of time reflecting on her pregnancy and weighing the options. I won’t spoil the ending, but I really appreciated how well de Gramont captured her tough decision and the process she went through. I also appreciated that romantic drama was kept to a relative minimum, even though it was a co-ed camp (boo). It captured a lot of what I love about camp–friendships, learning new skills, loving nature. And yet it had enough drama to make it a compelling and surprising read.
I’m still waiting for someone to write an awesome YA novel about Girl Scout camp. If no one does it in the next few years I might be forced to put pen to paper myself.