by Mary McCoy
Carolrhoda Lab, 2017
Camp So-and-So is a young adult novel. It's a little bit hard to categorize more specifically than that, but not for lack of options. It is mostly horror, probably, or humor, or fantasy. As is expected in Mary McCoy's works, it is leaning towards the nebulous genre of literary fiction. Mostly what it is, though, is a campfire story
that got out of hand.
Okay - bear with me, because this is hard to describe. This novel has 25 protagonists, many of them with names, others with personalities. However, these various actors are split into five cabins, and each group has its own persona, and its own adventure. One finds itself in fierce competition with the rich kids' camp across the lake. One finds itself on a mysterious, and epic, quest. One discovers that their soul mates are also attending the camp (yes, the whole cabin; in another cabin. Don't question it, it's very romantic). One discovers that the camp is covering up the mysterious death of a previous camper... who might not be dead... who might be wandering the woods... sneaking up behind unwary campers, closer and closer....
And cabin 5. Cabin five die a quick and violent death, and the less said about them the better.
Anyway, violent, bizarre, and mysterious hijinx ensue. The girls are all living (mostly) in the same camp, dealing with the same problems -- the majority of the staff appear to have fled, something scary lives in the cave in the woods, cars keep exploding, and cabin 5 has um... never mind cabin 5. Oh, and those rich kids are jerks. But there is significant disagreement as to the details. The thing in the cave is either a girl driven mad after being abandoned by her campmates, or a lost treasure protected by magic and monsters, or just a tale to scare campers. The lack of staff (and food) is either a sign that they will all die alone and hungry, or that the hotdog roast is ruined. The rich kids are either fey that kidnap girls and keep them in their thrall, or, you know, just big jerks.
Just to be clear here: unreliable narrators, yes, absolutely. But just plain making stuff up, no. Someone is laying booby-traps in the woods. The camp pickup truck did explode, and not just smoke a bit and then stop running, but a big American-movie type boom-with-flames-and-small-mushroom-cloud. All the camp staff other than camp counselors and the creepy groundsman have indeed left the premises, and they apparently neglected to buy any food or supplies before doing so. And those rich kids, they are royal jerks.
And this isn't some Scooby-Doo cop-out where it's just some old guy in a mask. One girl gets turned into a raven. Like, permanently. I mean, there is also a creepy old guy in a mask, but that's a different cabin.
And of course, I can't explain what's going on, because that'd be spoilers. Except, I can tell you the big things, because this is a teenage camp story, so you already know that hearts are broken, lifelong friends are made, lessons are learned, the rich kids are taken down a notch, and the raven makes peace with her fate.
Overall, this is exactly the kind of book I wanted to read as a kid, and also, now. Weird things happen, are taken at face value and dealt with by normal people, and the reasoning behind them slowly revealed. A dozen different weird and chaotic things are going on at once, and all of them puzzling and interesting. The story is wacky and weird without making the characters caricatures. It is hard to describe, and it is unfortunately hard to find comparisons -- very loosely, How Much for Just the Planet?, or A Night in the Lonesome October, perhaps. But also, this is well written, rather long (~450 pages), and a fairly light (but, you know, also dark) read, making it a type of novel that just didn't exist when I was young... Epic literary darkly comic light horror. Or something. Regardless, I highly recommend it.