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Camp by Lev A.C. Rosen is set at Camp Outland, a summer camp for queer kids ages 12-18. Randy Kapplehoff has been coming for years and this summer he plans to win the heart of Hudson Aaronson-Lim. To do this, he's completely reimagined himself: cut his hair short, stopped wearing makeup and nail polish, and he absolutely won't participate in the annual musical.
The first couple books by Rosen I read I loved. They were fun. They had good representation and relatable characters. One was a middle grade urban fantasy, Woundabout (2015) and one was an adult mystery set in a post climate change world, Depth (2015).
But his two YA novels have completely and utterly missed the mark. Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) (2018) I managed to finish about fifty pages before giving up. Camp, I fared better but many of my reservations from Jack of Hearts carry over to Camp.
Fundamentally the teens in Camp don't read like modern day teens but the inclusion of current technology implies that Camp is set in 2020 or thereabouts. Yet, the teens speak and act like Boomers in teen bodies.
Uniformly the boys that Randy hangs with at camp call each other by terms of endearment like sweetie or darling. Their language and mannerisms might as well have been cut and pasted from Paris is Burning (1990). That documentary is thirty years old and the last time I heard banter like that was about twenty years ago when I first started working in San Francisco. No queer teen or adult under the age of 50 I know talks like the teens in Camp.
Then there is the premise that campers hook up every summer for sex (save for the few token ace characters). Of course some teens have sex but a camp that caters to children wouldn't stay open if it were as welcoming to sexual acts as Camp Outland appears to be. The fact that there is a tree that everyone knows about, where couples carve their relationships and it's heavily implied that these are sexual relationships makes this a camp that should be shut down.
On top of the adults failing utterly to provide a safe place for their campers, there is the ham-fisted addressing of toxic masculinity. Randy's complete makeover is taken as a sign that he's fallen victim to T.M. That might be true but it's presented as an either or / black and white situation. A gay boy can only be effeminate to be taken seriously, to prove his self love. Excuse me?