CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 36. . . .May 18, 2018
The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2018.
249 pp., trade pbk., $22.99.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Chasity Findlay.
Siobhan knelt at the threshold of the tent, unwilling to go closer. “Jan?” Jan didn’t move or blink. Her jaw hung loosely open. Not like she was surprised, but like a dentist had just said, Open wide!
Siobhan waited. Part of her believed that Jan would cough, flutter her eyes, sit upright, apologize for scaring them. Dina’s screaming died down outside. She could hear the other girls talking. Andee said, “Did you try to wake her up?”
When Siobhan reemerged, Nita asked, “Well?”
Siobhan found she didn’t have the air in her lungs to speak. She just shook her head.
“I did it!” Dina yelped.
They turned to her.
Dina was crying and hiccupping, barely able to get out the words. “I talked to her about dying and then she did. I cursed her.”
Siobhan felt a flash of annoyance. Now, she thought, is not the time for this babyish nonsense. The annoyance was a relief, a way of galvanizing around a different emotion, something other than the terror that hovered like movement at the edge of her vision.
Nita put her arm around Dina’s neck and guided her roughly so that the five girls stood together in a circle, in front of the tents and Jan. Isabel had her arms crossed, shivering as she rubbed her upper arms.
“What do we do?” Andee said.
“We need to get help,” Siobhan said.
“Right,” Nita said. “We should start kayaking back to Forevermore.”
“What? No,” Siobhan said. “We’re already on the big island. We just need to walk to town and find a phone.”
Nita gestured around them, at the enclosed beach and the pathless woods. “And which way is town?”
“We just walk away from the water, and we’ll hit a road eventually. Jan had a compass. I think it’s…” Siobhan hesitated. “I think it’s in our tent.”
“We know Forevermore is four, five hours away. We know we can make it because we did it yesterday. We don’t know how far town is.”
“We know it’s closer than Forevermore! We’re already here!” Siobhan yelled.
“Don’t you remember what Jan said? She said we’d camp somewhere that was miles from anyone, and no one would ever stumble upon us. But if we get in the boats, we just keep paddling east and we’ll be back to the mainland!”
“We didn’t get here in a straight line,” Siobhan said. “The route was complicated. I’m sure there was a good reason. Rocks and… stuff. Water that’s not safe.” The inherent safety of land over water seemed obvious to Siobhan. Her incredulity made the words jumble in her mouth, made her sputter, like having to argue that the sky was blue as it hung above them, plain to see.
“There’s a map of the islands in Jan’s bag,” Nita argued.
“But we don’t know where on the big island we are!”
Dina was still sniffling. Through her tears, she said, “They’ll notice when we don’t come back today. They’ll come looking for us. Maybe we should just stay here.”
“But nobody knows we’re here,” Andee said, with dawning horror. “They think we’re on Lumpen.”
The year is 1994. Every summer for decades, girls aged nine to eleven have been attending Camp Forevermore in the Pacific Northwest to develop the skills needed to become outdoorswomen, experience nature, and develop the deep bonds of sisterhood with their fellow campers. The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore follows the stories of five girls—Nita, Andee, Isabel, Dina, and Siobhan during their time at the camp and through their journeys into adulthood.
The five girls are grouped together on an overnight kayaking adventure to an isolated island with their camp counsellor, Jan. At Jan’s suggestion, the girls decide to camp on a different island than originally planned, despite the fact that at least one of them feels uneasy about it. This decision sets off a series of unfortunate events for the girls. They wake up in the morning to find that Jan has passed away from an unknown cause, their kayaks have drifted away from the shore, and they have no idea which direction to travel to find help on the island.
As the book continues, the chapters alternate between continuing the narrative of their distressing fight for survival on the island and the stories from each of the girls’ lives in their later teen years and into adulthood. Through this narration style, readers may speculate on how their experiences at home contributed to the personal characteristics and behaviours they demonstrated whilst fighting for survival, and, alternately, how the traumatic experience at camp contributed to the direction of their lives afterward.
The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore is author Kim Fu’s second novel. She has been the recipient of several awards for her first novel, For Today I Am a Boy, and her debut poetry collection, How Festive the Ambulance. Her work has appeared in several publications, including the The New York Times, The Atlantic and Granta.
Fu has created diverse and multidimensional characters with whom readers are likely to connect. All of their stories are interesting and well-developed through Fu’s stunning prose. The characters’ depth is demonstrated throughout the book within both the survival story and description of the girls’ lives as adults. Readers will be able to see their personalities develop based on their interactions with other characters, reactions to the stressful events they face, and decisions they must make whilst on the island, which are further developed in the subsequent alternating chapters detailing each of their lives into their teen and adult years. Fu has created characters that have unique personalities which she brings to life through her detailed narration. From Nita’s intelligence, to Dina’s experiences with her abusive mother, to Andee’s lack of positive adult role models, some readers may begin to infer how their early experiences affected their behaviour at the camp, and, alternately, how their harrowing experience at the camp affected their futures. Although I was able to make connections between the past and present lives of the girls relating to the tragedy they experienced, bearing in mind that I am an adult and experienced reader, I think that this aspect could have been demonstrated more explicitly in order to be fully appreciated by teen readers.
I found the plot to be interesting and engaging, particularly the sections containing the girls’ stories into their adult years. Whilst I can appreciate the implicit message of how the past can weave itself into the present, I think that this subtlety might be lost on younger and more inexperienced readers. Some readers may find the book to be somewhat anticlimactic and disjointed as any explicit references to the camp and the trauma the girls experienced are spare within the stories of their adulthood. Additionally, any suspense building up within the survival chapters is extinguished with each alternating section from each of the girls’ perspectives into adulthood as readers discover one by one that they each survive the ordeal before the survival story plays out. I felt like the story could have been brought together full circle by having the girls reconnect at the end of the book or stay in touch throughout, bonding and finding some peace and understanding over their shared experience. I went into reading this book expecting more aspects of a modern-day Lord of the Flies survival tale, but found that The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore was more focussed on a coming-of-age story, which, although not wholly what I had expected, I appreciated, nonetheless. For these reasons, I feel that this book would be a welcomed addition to classroom and school libraries and would recommend it to experienced readers looking for an identity text by a talented writer.
Chasity Findlay is a high school English language arts teacher and a recent graduate of the Master of Education program at the University of Manitoba.
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