Just a heads up, this review contains some explicit language, and talks a fair bit about gay sex. Also, this has been sitting in my drafts for, literally, four months, so sorry that I’m trash and didn’t post it sooner.
I have a confession to make. I’m really not a fan of camping. Or any outdoor pursuits to be quite honest (unless it involves laying on a beach/next to a pool and having an attractive man hand me drinks). The last time I went camping was in Year 8, it was with with half of the boys in my year (I went to an all boys school – not as fun as it sounds), I was forced to play rugby in the rain (newsflash – I’m not a rugby lad), and it rained the entire time. It was hell. Literally.
So, I can’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, my time would have been a lot more enjoyable if I’d have ended up somewhere like Camp Outland, the setting for L. C. Rosen’s new book, Camp. Now, the UK doesn’t share the US’ Summer Camp culture, so just imagine The Parent Trap, and you might know what I’m talking about. No, not the bit about shipping the brats off to Switzerland. No, not that bit where Emma Thompson falls into the swimming pool. Earlier than that. No, earlier. Keep going. Yep, there, right at the start.
Camp Outland is a four week summer camp for LGBTQ+ youth, and we’re first introduced to it through the eyes of Del (formerly Randy), who is returning for his fifth year, but with an entirely new look and set of interests. Del has had a “She’s All That” style transformation in the year since his last visit, from flamboyant theatre gay into the Masc4Masc type jock that some gay men (myself included) simultaneously hate and love. He’s buffed up, cropped his hair, made himself into the Masculine Ideal, all in the attempts of getting camp heartthrob Hudson to notice him, but without knowing anything about who he actually is.
It’s a story that we’re all kind of familiar with, except normally it’s a girl who has the makeover to get the guy, the type of makeover normally consisting of taking off her glasses, blowing out her hair, and putting her in a dress that is just slightly too short and slightly too tight. What’s interesting and unique about Camp is that Del is a guy, and also that he chooses to undergo the makeover, putting himself through a year of hard work and sacrifice, ditching his own interests, all to make sure he’s exactly Hudson’s type and can make it past the elusive ‘two-week mark’ that none of Hudson’s previous beaus have lasted past.
Del’s narration of the story throughout is a consistent inner monologue, and he doesn’t shy away from the moments of doubt in The Plan, or from discussing if what he’s doing (pretending to be brand new so that Hudson doesn’t put two and two together about his previous identity) is actually lying, or if it will all be fine once they’re together. His conscience is bolstered by his two best friends, George, the theatrical cub who calls everyone Darling and has a penchant for sparkly nail varnish, and Ashleigh, the demi-lesbian who is trying to avoid the pitfalls of last year and NOT fall for the cute, older, straight lifeguard. Neither one of them are afraid to call him out on his bullshit, whether that’s about The Plan, his lack of involvement with other friends, or if he’s comfortable lying to someone he professes to love.
Even with the easy summer romance vibes, Camp touches on a LOT of really important issues within the LGBTQ+ world; body shaming, the idea the “straight acting” means better, the way that words can have an impact far greater than even the meaning of the word when you know the context. None of these things are veered away from. Rather, they’re leaned into, and used as opportunities to examine what things are actually messed up in the community, even at younger ages.
Rosen is known for not shying away from issues, and particulary from LGBTQ+ sexissues. With the lack of sex education that LGBTQ+ students receive that is actually appropriate or useful, Rosen has said publicly that he views it as a part of his job to deliver it. His last book, “Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts)” was super sex positive but also super informational. Camp is no different.
Look, I’ll level with you. In my 30ish years of life, I have read a lot of sex scenes in books. Like, a lot. I’m a Sarah J Maas fan, you do the math! But there are very few that are a) in a YA book, b) gay, and c) actually address issues like safe sex, adequate lubrication (trust me on this one folks, it’s capital I Important), and hygiene. The scenes in Camp manage somehow to be really well written, sex positive, realistic, and also touching. No, not in that way, get your mind out of the gutter!
Anyway, Camp is now OUT in the world (get it? Get it?! Sorry, I’ll see myself out… Sorry) and if you haven’t picked up a copy yet, you totally should. If you have, what did you think? Let me know in the comments or drop me a message on twitter, and I’ll see you next time!