There is definitely something distressing about reading a book about sleep-away camp in the dead of winter. The very quality of sunlight mocks the idea. Summer? Ha! There is no summer here, and it will be months before those dark, bitter mornings and soul-suckingly short afternoons begin to fade into the soft melody of spring. And yet Fun Camp is the book I chose halfway through January – or as I like to call it, the longest month of the year.
What can I say? Amazon knows me too well. It’s like I’d already told it about all those summers I spent hundreds of miles from home, subsisting on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the care packages all the nice parents (mine included) sent. One year, of course, was bad (I believe it was just after seventh grade, but it may have been just after eighth – thankfully, all those awful junior high experiences sort of blend together after a while), but mostly, I adored that precious week of independence every year with a near religious fervor.
In fact, I remember wishing that my parents could send me away for a month at a time because I enjoyed hiking and making ugly crafts and singing songs around the campfire so much that one week was just not enough for me. As an adult, of course, I realize that camps are pricy, and if I had gone to an awful one for four weeks, I’d probably still be lugging that emotional baggage around.
And, hey! Maybe my parents weren’t actually sick of me three days into summer vacation…although that doesn’t seem right. My brother and I were happy enough to be left alone until shots were fired and the battle spilled down the stairs and into my mother’s office. (I really don’t understand how families handle summer vacation. My parents worked full-time, and summers were far more stressful than the school year in terms of coordination and execution of care.)
Basically, I saw camp as a chance to escape being a bratty little sister for a few days while doing things that freaked me out (trust falls, eating questionable looking meat, kissing boys) in a safe but less supervised environment. Fun Camp is a look back at that experience through the slightly jaded perspective of adulthood. Durham’s book is a mix of speeches, letters, and one-sided conversations from narrators we only really get to know through biased and often ridiculous excerpts. It isn’t a novel, per se, although it does tell its own fractured story.
Durham’s perspective occasionally borders on hostile, although it’s tempered with moments of unexpected joy, and his sense of humor is spot on. He ultimately does the experience justice, and by the end of the book, I felt myself transported back to the hot, buggy days of my youth. There were the boys who thought they were really getting away with something because they didn’t shower, the stupid pranks that often ended up with someone in the infirmary, the surprisingly passionate best friendships that burned out as quickly as they had ignited.
The feel of camp was just something out of the ordinary. Some people might get a similar experience out of going away to college or joining a band, but for me, I was always the best version of myself – the coolest and the most fearless – during those precious summer weeks. Even though Fun Camp wasn’t exactly the book I hoped it would be, I love that it brought me back to a place and time that was so formative for me. Was it a perfect execution of a difficult format? Probably not, but it found its footing by the end and delivered a surprisingly powerful punch I hadn’t anticipated. Sort of like a week at summer camp does, come to think of it…
For more about Gabe Durham, go here.