One of my favourite books growing up was Gordon Korman’s I want to go home. It’s a hilarious novel about this kid, Rudy Miller, who is sent to summer camp against his will. He spends the entire time trying to devise new and ingenious ways of escaping. One of his schemes is to write a letter home to his parents describing his camp life (filled with exaggerations and lies) with the hope that they will collect him early. Here’s an excerpt:
Dear Mom and Dad,
This place is terrible. Each day I’m subjected to countless atrocities. The food is spoiled and poisonous, and the drinking water is contaminated so there is an outbreak of typhoid. Our cabin collapsed last night in a typhoon, but don’t worry. Only one guy got killed.
It’s not all bad. I do have one friend, named Mike. He’s the one who pulled me out of the quicksand. I have to haul garbage every day, but there aren’t too many wild animals at the dump and I’ve only been bitten twice.
Tonight is really going to be fun. Our cabin hasn’t been fixed yet, so we get to sleep in trees. I sure hope the typhoon doesn’t start up again.
I’ll be safe and sound so long as Algonkian Island doesn’t sink any further.
P.S. If this letter looks messy it’s because I’m writing it while being chased by a bear.
It’s a little more difficult finding adult novels that deal with summer camp, but here are a few that you might enjoy. SPOILERS: things don’t go well.
The Summer is Ended and We are Not Yet Saved by Joey Comeau
Okay, let me say right off the top that this book is not for everyone. It’s quite graphic (it’s a horror novel, essentially) about an 11 year old kid who goes to Bible camp. The first part of the novel sets up a lot of the 1980’s slasher tropes but they are interspersed with some lovely correspondence between the kid (Martin) and his mother back home. The second part of the novel devolves into a genre slasher story, albeit one with some creativity and dark humour. Not exactly an adult companion piece to I want to go home, but close.
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
This powerful debut tells the story of a film studies graduate student, Will Dillard, who spend a summer at a “gay conversion camp” as a teenager, and how now, almost 20 years later, he is confronted with what happened that summer and how it affected him. (And yes, there is a “slasher film” element to this story as well. It seems you can’t write a novel about summer camp without evoking the image of someone in a goalie mask).
The Mad Cook of Pymatuning by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Maybe I’m just looking for slasher summer camp stuff at this point, but here’s a book recommended by Stephen King, He says: “Warm ’50s nostalgia gives way to cold chills in this tale of a summer camp gone bad. Very bad. Think Lake Lord-of-the-Flies.” Are there no “feel good” summer camp books? I guess that wouldn’t be very interesting, would it? “Chapter 1: we all had a lovely time, made life-long friends and learned valuable survival and leadership skills. The End.”
All of these books reference the “Summer Camp Slasher” genre in one way or another, and none of it would have been possible without the original, Friday the 13th. If you are at all interested in that franchise and the impact it has had on our pop culture, you should check out Crystal Lake Memories. It’s 400 minutes long and takes you through every Friday the 13th movie. (I know, it’s a bit much, but it does a thorough job.)
After reading through all these different “reinventions of the slasher novel”, it just made me want to rewatch The Cabin in the Woods, which is a great little take on the “teenagers go camping in the woods” kind of story…WITH A TWIST (of course).
Enjoy the rest of your summer. Hopefully you make it through!