how to survive a summer review

I’ve been seeing bits and pieces about this book, so I thought I would bite the bullet and ask for it on Netgalley. The opinions expressed are all my own. A note: this review will contain some spoilers.

Camp Levi nestled in the Mississippi countryside is designed to “cure” young teenage boys of their budding homosexuality. Will Dillard, a Midwestern graduate student, spent a summer at the camp as a teenager, and has since tried to erase that experience from his mind. But when a fellow student alerts him that a slasher movie based on the camp is being released, he is forced to confront his troubled history and possible culpability in the death of a fellow camper.

As past and present are woven together, Will recounts his “rehabilitation,” eventually returning to the abandoned campgrounds to solve the mysteries of that pivotal summer, and to reclaim his story from those who have stolen it. With a masterful confluence of sensibility and place, How to Survive a Summer introduces an exciting new literary voice.”

This has been a difficult review to write, because I’m genuinely not sure how I feel about this book. How to Survive a Summer oscillates between horrifying memories about the camp and incredibly boring sections where Will drives around for a couple of days. I can definitely see the point of flipping back and forward from the past and present, but it could have been more interesting.

The camp sections are harrowing. Trigger warnings for psychological torture, physical torture, solitary confinement, attempted sexual assault, homophobia, murder – I’m afraid there are probably some parts that I’m forgetting because of the constant onslaught. These sections absolutely broke my heart, mainly because Will was so desperate to be cured. I am wondering, however, whether it was a bit torture porn-y. Surely there wasn’t a need for all of this?

One thing I did like was the writing. It is written like a memoir (seriously, a couple of times I had to check that it wasn’t an actual memoir) but it isn’t. Will’s voice is very clear, and the characterisations felt very real. I wish the characters had been a bit more interesting. Finally, there were some really fascinating debates about representation. The slasher movie features a gay serial killer, which causes a lot of divided opinion. Some people in the book believe it is a type of retribution against homophobia, whilst others believe it is yet another bad representation of LGBT+ people. I really enjoyed how this division in opinion showed how diverse the LGBT+ community is, and how we don’t always agree.

Overall, I’m really not sure what to think, still. If you’re interested in LGBT+ people and conservative Christianity, this will be a good one for you. But other than that, I’m not sure.

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2 thoughts on “how to survive a summer review

  1. christine @ the story salve says:

    I hadn’t heard of this one, but I imagine I’d agree with you if I ended up reading it.

    On the one hand, there’s definitely a space for books about “conversion camps.” I’ve read a couple that were well-done, in my opinion – The Miseducation of Cameron Post comes to mind – but this one sounds pretty…well, gruesome. And to be honest, I’m a little tired of the tragic storyline involving queer characters. I’m at a point where I’d almost like to read about queer kids who are happy and aren’t defined by their sexuality. At the same time, though, where would queer lit as a whole be without the books about tragic gays? It’s tough to say, but I think you did a good job talking about different aspects of the issue.

    Like

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