Sixteen-year-old Randy Kapplehoff loves spending the summer at Camp Outland, a camp for queer teens. It’s where he met his best friends. It’s where he takes to the stage in the big musical. And it’s where he fell for Hudson Aaronson-Lim – who’s only into straight-acting guys and barely knows not-at-all-straight-acting Randy even exists.
This year, though, is going to be different. Randy has reinvented himself as ‘Del’ – buff, masculine and on the market. Even if it means giving up show tunes, nail polish and his unicorn bedsheets, he’s determined to get Hudson to fall for him.
But as he and Hudson grow closer, Randy has to ask himself, how much is he willing to change for love? And is it really love anyway, if Hudson doesn’t know who he truly is?
*cue tears* OH. MY. GOD. I ‘squeeeeeeeed’ when I read the blurb for this, because it sounded AH-MAZING. I think I almost broke my emails in my haste to request it. And when my copy arrived, I threw away the book I was reading to absolutely DEVOUR this.
And I read it, and I loved it, and then the publication date got moved back 3 months in Australia, so instead of screaming about it like I’ve wanted to, I’ve just been softly shouting for what feels like a long time. BUT NOW I CAN YELL!! (With love, always yell with love… unless it’s about transphobic bishes… then you can yell with annoyance!)
Firstly, I want to go to this camp. Please don’t tell me I’m too old. Camp Outland sounds like the MOST AMAZING camp ever, and I wish it actually existed so that queer teens had a safe space to spend four weeks every summer. There’s a section right at the end where Randy and Connie (one of the counsellors, who is a trans woman) talk about why the camp is so important, and I would quote the entire conversation if I could (except spoilers), but here is just one tiny piece that absolutely breaks my heart, but it’s the world we live in:
“But isn’t it better to just be yourself, and be proud?” I ask.
“Here? Yes. Absolutely. Out there? You have to keep yourself safe first. You’re still just kids.”
The messages in this book are SO IMPORTANT. The book touches on themes of homophobia, transphobia, being yourself but also being safe, love, and found family. I also want to say, this is written by an #ownvoices author. Lev A. C. Rosen is a gay man, writing about a m/m relationship. As much as I love queer fiction, a lot of it is written by women. While I absolutely agree that reading provides us with a level of empathy to understand challenges faced by others, it is so important to support ownvoices authors in particular to get a real view on these issues.
I love all the characters. They are living their best teen lives. George is just the greatest character ever, and I love how sure he is of himself. But, they are realistic teens (which, A+ because this does not happen often). They screw up, they doubt themselves, they make stupid mistakes, and they say things they don’t mean because they’re angry
and who even can deal with emotions in their thirties let alone a teenager. But they are still learning. and for that we love them.
Finally, the writing and the story are beautiful. I have 100% ordered a copy of Rosen’s other works based on my enjoyment of this story. But, even with all the super intense topics, this was a very fast and highly enjoyable read. The story is character driven (as opposed to plot/action driven) and the world building is amazing. The characters are well developed (no two dimensional characters here), and it’s just a great book. What more do you need??
I cried while reading this. Surprise! I know, the world’s biggest crier cried. Shocking. But also, is this bad?? Why do I keep putting this in the bad section?? Are feelings bad?? No… they’re just hard some days. Here’s why this book COULD give you hard feelings:
One of the boys is so brain-washed by trying to ensure that his parents love him, that he is being homophobic, while gay. This book is about learning to accept who you are, warts and all, and that might be hard for some readers. This is NOT a bad thing though, we just need to acknowledge triggers.
“You know what would happen to me if I wore what you’re wearing in my hometown? Or held hands with someone dressed like that?”
“I think if you hold hands with a boy, homophobic assholes won’t care what that boy is wearing.”
My personal thoughts and reflections from reading this
I am fortunate. I’ve never had to ‘come out’ to my parents and worry about not being accepted for who I am. I’ve dated girls and kissed girls and no one ever really saw it as anything unusual, but maybe that was because the three big relationships I had before husband were with boys. The only thing that I have had to really deal with is when I say I’m bisexual and the response I get is “but you married a man”. Surprisingly, bisexual people are allowed to marry. If the person my husband is was female, then I would have married a woman. I’m not married to him because he’s a guy. I’m married to him because of who he is. But marrying a guy doesn’t make me ‘straight’ either. But I know this, and my husband knows this. And that’s all I care about for me, because I don’t care what other people think. But I also earn my own money and can support myself.
I’ve also always been able to be who I wanted, as the only person who’s judgement I feared was my own. I wore skulls and glitter and tartan and painted my nails black (my nails are still currently black) and dyed my hair every colour of the rainbow, and I could be me without fear. Not everyone is this fortunate, or privileged. And it’s up to those of us who are, to make the world a safer place for those who aren’t. If you are struggling, reach out. Ask for help. Find people you can trust. DM me if you want. I’m here, and I can be a safe space for you.
Overall about the book
I love this book, I truly do. I originally gave it 4 stars, but coming back to write this review three months later, I reread the last 50 pages. And I changed my mind. It deserves five stars. Five giant, bright, glittery, shining stars. These are the books that deserve to be pushed and hyped and read and loved, so that we can make a change in behaviours and ensure that everyone gets to grow up feeling loved and secure in who they are.
… recommended for …
- queer YA contemporary fiction
- summer camp
- Always Never Yours by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
- Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
Thank you to Penguin Australia for providing me a free copy to review.
All thoughts and opinions are my own.