Camp by L. C. Rosen
Published: Penguin Random House UK Children’s (May 28th 2020)
Genre: young adult; contemporary
Rep: gay Jewish mc, half-Korean gay Jewish li, Middle Eastern gay Jewish side character, demi lesbian side character, Afro-Brazilian-American sapphic side character, Black trans side character, nonbinary side character, gay side characters (really, an LGBT cast)
Rating: 4/5 🍑
First things first: if you’ve read the blurb and you’re kind of worried about the whole ‘pretending to be someone else to get a boy’ thing – don’t be. It’s handled with so much grace; Randy is being called out on his ridiculous plan by basically anyone who knows about it, constantly. The words “trick him to love you” are used. It’s not a cheap plot device, it’s a driving force of the book and there are countless discussions regarding it.
Randy describes his plan as if his life was a rom-com. He will change his haircut, his wardrobe, his hobbies, the way he talks and walks, and geticulates… And it will be all worth it because at the end he will get the guy of his dreams.
The thing is, it actually does feel like a rom-com at times! The plan works perfectly from day one, the boys have an adorable meet-cute, it’s all great. But that’s just the beginning, the outer layer, and the reality is that Camp uses Randy’s plan to teach him (and others) a lesson.
Randy falls for Hudson without truly knowing him, after having barely any conversations with him. He calls Hudson his “dream boy”, some kind of ideal, but in fact it becomes clearer and clearer that he doesn’t really know him at all. It’s a nice contrast between Randy pretending to be Del and claiming to be in love with a boy who’s just a notch above a stranger.
Two major things are happening in Camp: Randy realises that 1) Hudson is way more complicated than the idea of him he had in his mind & 2) he can have interests that are seemingly complete opposites. Randy comes into the story determined to pretend to enjoy sports only as long as it’s absolutely necessary and coming back to theatre as soon as he drops the L word & gets his happy ending. But over time he finally admits to himself that he can have both, that he doesn’t have to chose one side and stay there forever.
While for years Randy just took Hudson at face value, put the meaning he figured fits to Hudson’s words, the plan unfolding wonderfully forces him to acknowledge that there’s more to the boy. He peels off layer after layer (and not just in a sexy way, but we’ll get to that) to learn that no one but our crushes (in our heads) is one dimensional. There’s always more to the story and usually you have to put in the work to discover that.
Frankly, you could venture to say that Hudson also created a personality. Not necessarily a false one, just one centered by his background, by what he was thought to believe in. And yes, that does sound just like a person growing up around other people, but it plays a grander role in a gay person’s life. We have to hide certain aspects of ourselves for protection, accentuate other, safer parts to fit in.
That’s also exactly the idea behind the camp in the book. A safe haven for LGBT youth where they can be themselves, where they don’t have to fear to paint their nails, to hold a girl’s hand, to be the loudest version of themselves they possibly can. A summer camp created with love and care, with no place for shame. A groundbreaking concept, really.
But even in this little bubble not everything is always perfect. The best part, though, is that none of those hiccups, none of the conflict ever feels like it’s just there for plot reasons. Camp is largely character-driven, with Randy and his very strong voice at the center, and the whole novel really is about growth and acceptance, and reevaluating your world views. The whole cast is beautifully fleshed out, even down to catch phrases and tiny mannerisms. (Mark’s constant mentioning of his therapist might have been one of my favourite things. And Randy’s ‘sweetie’ only used at certain times was absolute gold.)
Groundbreaking ideas aren’t in Camp just as part of the setting, though. There’s also the book’s approach to sex. If you’ve read any YA novels before, you know that sex is usually glossed over, not seen as something “clean” that teens should be reading about, but rather as something that has to be spoken about only in hushed voices. That’s not the case here. The book is aware it’s about teenagers and that teenagers can be horny, too. It doesn’t even bother with the fade-to-black kind of thing, just flat out describes sex scenes in the same detail all the other scenes get. Not all teens have sex at sixteen, sure, but some of them do and it’s really refreshing to see a book that acknowledges that and never tries to shame them for it (especially given it’s gay sex).
Camp might seem like a gay rom-com at the first glance, but it’s so much more than that. Yes, it’s absolutely hilarious at times; yes, the romance is a vital part of it; yes, it appears sweet and simply fun. But underneath it’s shimmery-glimmery facade, it’s a story of growth and learning to love yourself, each and every part.
From the author of the acclaimed Jack of Hearts (and other parts) comes a sweet and sharp screwball comedy that critiques the culture of toxic masculinity within the queer community.
Sixteen-year-old Randy Kapplehoff loves spending the summer at Camp Outland, a camp for queer teens. It’s where he met his best friends. It’s where he takes to the stage in the big musical. And it’s where he fell for Hudson Aaronson-Lim – who’s only into straight-acting guys and barely knows not-at-all-straight-acting Randy even exists.
This year, though, it’s going to be different. Randy has reinvented himself as ‘Del’ – buff, masculine, and on the market. Even if it means giving up show tunes, nail polish, and his unicorn bedsheets, he’s determined to get Hudson to fall for him.
But as he and Hudson grow closer, Randy has to ask himself how much is he willing to change for love. And is it really love anyway, if Hudson doesn’t know who he truly is?
What’s a cool trope or plot device you would like to see more of in books?