Throughout June, GeekMom will be celebrating Pride Month with lots of LGBTQ content. Follow the Pride Month tag to find all the content in one space and keep checking back for more throughout the month. Today’s book review is Camp by LC Rosen. This book contains some sexually explicit themes which are discussed in this review.
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Camp is set at a summer camp exclusively for LGBTQ youth. Randy is returning to camp for his fifth summer, but this time he has arrived with a plan. He’s arrived with newly shortened hair, a masculine wardrobe, and a new name—Del. Gone are his makeup, unicorn bedsheets, and femme behaviors. Why? This time he is determined to win the heart of Hudson, the tough, macho heartthrob of the camp who only looks twice at straight-acting, masculine guys. Remember that scene in Grease where Sandy changes her whole look and personality to “win over” Danny? Imagine if Danny hadn’t recognized her and her charade lasted for weeks…
Randy/Del’s friends are shocked and worried about the change. Rather than signing up to join the drama track and work on the camp’s annual musical production, he has signed up for sports and outdoor activities. But when they question whether it’s a wise choice, Del digs in deeper. This is the plan he has been devising on all year, and it seems to be working. By the end of the first day, Hudson is already flirting with him, but Del has told him he’s a new camper and the lies just keep on building. It’s inevitable that Hudson will eventually learn the truth, but will he be flattered by the effort Del has put in or horrified by the manipulation?
Camp was certainly one of the most unique LGBTQ romances I’ve read, and it explores some deep themes about what it means to be queer both on the inside and on the outside. As we learn more about Del and Hudson’s lives away from the camp, we begin to see how those experiences have molded them to become very different on the outside, even if those differences aren’t as marked under the skin. There is also an enormous range of representation on show: gays, lesbians, bisexuals naturally, but also characters who are trans, aromantic, asexual, and those using they/them pronouns. The entire rainbow is present and accounted for at this camp.
Throughout the book, Del’s cabin mates are preparing to put on their annual show—this year it will be a queer telling of Bye Bye Birdie. This allows for a constant parallel narrative about how much of the gay experience is performative. Are many gay men naturally effeminate or is that something they perform because of expectations? Does it even matter, providing the actual person is happy? When Del changes himself to become more outwardly attractive to Hudson, has it changed who he is inside? He doesn’t think so—he’s still the same person right? But his friends seem to have a different opinion.
Also on the theme of performative sexuality is the idea of whether or not the young people in the book should hide aspects of their personality to keep themselves safe. One memorable scene involves a male character’s choice to wear nail varnish and whether he should keep on doing so in front of unsupportive parents outside the camp. Arguments are put forward about whether he should continue to wear it—staying true to the person he wants to be—or stop and perform the image of his sexuality that his parents want to see. This is a scenario familiar to nearly all LGBTQ people at some point in their lives, and whether or not the decision made in the book is the correct one is going to be down to the reader and their interpretation.
One thing to note about Camp is that it is by far the most sexually explicit of all the books I’ve read for Pride Month this year. While the others have stopped at kissing and the odd fumble, Camp includes descriptions of the preparations for and the experience of blow jobs and penetrative anal sex between two teenage boys. These scenes are handled sensitively and in the context of a romantic relationship and will be incredibly useful for young people hoping to learn more about sex, but could well be quite shocking for those used to nothing more than kissing. Parents may wish to keep that in mind before handing the book over to younger readers. The summer camp of the book is very sex-positive with condoms freely available to all campers and while the realism of that seems highly questionable, it certainly provides an interesting experiment on how a super-liberal teenage experience could look.
I really enjoyed reading Camp and found it to be one of the most thought-provoking of all the LGBTQ books I have read this year. While I would shy away from recommending it to most younger readers, it could well be invaluable to older teens exploring their thoughts and feelings about having sex for the first time.
GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.