The quintessential summer read: a sharp, poignant coming-of-age novel about the magic of camp and the enduring power of female friendship, for readers of Stephanie Danler, Anton DiSclafani, Jennifer Close, and Curtis Sittenfeld. At what point does childhood end and adulthood begin? Mandy Berman s evocative debut novel captures, through the lens of summer camp, a place that only appears to be untouched by the passing of time, both the thrills and pain of growing up. Rachel Rivkin and Fiona Larkin used to treasure their summers together as campers at Camp Marigold. Now, reunited as counselors after their first year of college, their relationship is more complicated. Rebellious Rachel, a street-smart city kid raised by a single mother, has been losing patience with her best friend s insecurities; Fiona, the middle child of a not-so-perfect suburban family, envies Rachel s popularity with their campers and fellow counselors. For the first time, the two friends start keeping secrets from each other. Through them, as well as from the perspectives of their fellow counselors, campers, and families, we witness the tensions of the turbulent summer build to a tragic event, which forces Rachel and Fiona to confront their pasts and the adults they re becoming. A seductive blast of nostalgia, a striking portrait of adolescent longing, and a tribute to both the complicated nature and the enduring power of female friendship, Perennials will speak to everyone who still remembers that bittersweet moment when innocence is lost forever.
To be honest, as soon as I read the blurb, I was already in love with this novel. Female friendships AND camp? Count me in! And yes. I’m perfectly aware that most of the reviews aren’t glowing and that some of you didn’t fall in love with this book as I did. But hey, sometimes those books are the most interesting ones. The same thing happened with You Don’t Know Me. While I was reading, I knew it wouldn’t be a story that I could recommend to everyone, but I was enjoying it so much that I didn’t care.
Perennials was so not what I expected in the first place. There wasn’t a main character or two, but various protagonists sharing their camp routines. Some of the book was set in the year 2000, but most of it was in 2006, when two of the main characters, Rachel and Fiona, are nineteen and working as counselors in Camp Marigold. We also meet Helen, Fiona’s much wilder sister, Sheera, Mo, Nell… and some of the other counselors as well.
My favorite character was, surprisingly, Rachel. I know that Rachel is not the typical choice and she did make some mistakes, but I admired her attitude towards life. Despite her flaws, she was a really good person and she loved Fiona for who she really was: they were opposites but they complemented each other. I think I enjoyed their interactions so much because we’ve all had those friends from childhood: years go by and you know you have nothing in common anymore, but you still try to stay friends because of everything you’ve been through together. Too many memories.
There are various themes portrayed in this beautiful novel. I’d say friendship is the most obvious one, but this was also what I’d call the “perfect coming of age novel”. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel that captures the coming of age phase as well as Perennials did. It’s about feeling left out, about first loves, about grief and, of course, about family, too.
The writing was my favorite part. Although there wasn’t much going on here (this is not a novel filled with action) Mandy Berman had a way of describing their everyday lives that had me utterly absorbed. I could’ve read about this people’s dreams and hopes forever. The writing was smooth and simple, beautiful and emotional at the same time. And by the time I reached the final part of the book, I was in tears.
Netgalley, Lake Union Publishing, 2017