Camp Outland is a literal queer oasis. There’s an inclusive, encouraging vibe from camp counselors and fellow campers. Randy’s dorm-mates share sparkly nail polish, wear spectacular clothes, sing and dance to show-tunes every morning while getting dressed! In that sense, Camp is dreamlike. In every other sense, it’s still very much camp. Almost too accurate a depiction of camp. I had actual flashes back to my high school camp days, finding myself nostalgic for the watery lasagna, desperately awkward moments with crushes during pool time, and mid-afternoon outfit changes while air-drying our hair before dinner.
A surprising thing, which speaks to the camp spirit at Camp Outland, is that there was no making fun of Randy, no snide remarks, no sabotaging the plan for Hudson to like him. Everyone had a wonderful ‘This is what he wants, so we’ll support it’ attitude. The result is a story that leaves room for a series of real discussions, exploring topics like toxic masculinity and performative gender expression in a way that I think teenagers would appreciate reading. The predicament is exactly as the blurb explains. What was unexpected is that the situation doesn’t always feel black-and-white. Randy has a bunch of great conversations with his best friends, his dorm, and camp counselors at various stages of this charade, and they all offer perspective, advice, and unconditional love while he navigates the blossoming romance.
And then... Hudson. Hudson is TRULY a problematic fave. I felt conflicted and uncomfortable about how the book would end, because he says some hurtful and (in my opinion) unforgivable things. But being immersed in my high school flashbacks reminded me that this is YA! When I was on those camps, I borderline idolized the boys I liked, knowing just a handful of facts about them, glossing over all kinds of things, and I loved every minute of it. It didn’t have to be wrapped up in a perfect ribbon that checks all the boxes. Having a crush and getting the guy? Being the person the ‘playboy’ chooses to actually date? That’s it. That’s camp romance, baby! It’s young love; you’ve gotta go all-in for the whole shebang. That’s Randy’s whole thing. And so I did! I hope you do, too.
The book isn't perfect, however. Randy is Jewish and white, Hudson is Korean (both his parents came from Korea to America as kids) but it's like, a forgettable fact, like I literally forgot about it even while reading the notes I made. It's mentioned in the middle of a line where Randy tells us about how "we were late to the meeting because making out, but we did talk a little bit so I feel like I'm making progress, like now I know his parents names and jobs and that they both came over from Korea, and his dad's great-grandparents fled pogroms in the Ukraine" (which is a very intense thing to just throw out in the middle a makeout.) As for Randy, he is white and Jewish, as is the author.
Overall, if you have ever wished for a queer summer camp, or been so heart-eyes-emoji over someone that you could not see past the seriousness of wanting them to be your boyfriend: Get. This. Book. It’s a wonderland of excellent, supportive queer people, and it will give you camp crush feels!
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