Like a lot of camps – both fictional and real – Camp Eden Lake finds itself in a position of uncertainty early in Jane Roper’s debut novel Eden Lake when founder Clay Perry and his wife, Gail, die in a plane crash.
With the summer session fast approaching, Clay and Gail’s kids – all of them less than enthused to be returning to the camp – reunite in Maine to sort out the estate and give at least one more summer of the progressive camp program at Eden Lake a go. From the first introduction of the four children/stepchildren – Abe, Jude, Aura and Eric – it’s clear that the meat of the book is going to be in the development of characters. In other words, that Eden Lake (affiliate link) is going to be a page-turning novel that happens to be set at a summer camp as opposed to a cliched and predictable novel about summer camp.
Alternating chapter-by-chapter between the perspective of the four children, a story of love, betrayal, infidelity, friendship and summer camp unfolds that should ring familiar for anyone who has been around the summer camp/slightly dysfunctional family scene at all. I found myself a couple times skipping to the back of the book to reread the author’s note about the book being strictly a work of fiction. (Note: Searching the camp online does little to prevent this confusion since there is a website and Twitter feed for Camp Lake Eden).
In the weeks I spent reading the book, I found myself living with the characters even when I wasn’t reading, wondering how youngest son Eric’s attempts at wooing the cute Russian counselor were going or whether the jerk dad threatening to sue the camp because his son suffered an infection in his ear after he broke into the craft cabin and pierced his own ear had backed off. I also found myself thinking back to my own summer camp experience with a little bit less idealism. Yes, summer camp was an amazing experience and yes most of my counselors and the staff were pretty cool. But they were also human and human beings are capable of doing some pretty messed up stuff, regardless of what they are teaching and modeling when they aren’t sneaking off to the other side of the lake.
That said, Eden Lake (affiliate link) is a novel with content that is best suited for people whose years as a camper are behind them, whether they had them or not. Being a summer camp enthusiast, camp alumni or someone who even likes the thought of being in nature is not a prerequisite. If you enjoy quality character-driven fiction about people navigating the ups and downs of life, Eden Lake belongs on your summer reading list.