The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu (Houghton Mifflin, 256 pages)
By Lena Afridi
Imagine Lord of the Flies, but with girls. One can imagine that as the pitch for Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore. The novel traces the story of four young girls stranded on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest, after their kayaking trip has gone awry. Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore is a new and spirited entry in the burgeoning genre of what some are calling "New Adult Fiction."
New Adult Fiction is aimed at post-adolescent readers who are too mature for Young Adult books but still grappling with what it means to enter adulthood. The genre focuses on the perspective of those standing at the cusp of adulthood while still processing a childhood that has not quite receded into memory.
The Lost Girls of Forevermore opens at Camp Forevermore, the kind of place that offers unforgettable childhood memories in beautiful brochures sent to eager parents anticipating a perfect summer experience for their daughters. Fu begins with an engrossing premise. A group of girls set off by kayak to a nearby island but are stranded, with no guides to get them back to the camp. In an ambitious structure of tangled narratives, Fu moves forward though the story of how the girls are coping on their own island, but she interrupts it with reports from the camp from which they are missing, and flashes of their future.
Female friendship and bonding between girls are staples of young adult series like Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club. Girls, joined together by harrowing experiences, find strength in their friendships and ultimately in themselves. It’s also a theme of more adult fiction about women -- Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Series, is one example. Fu's story is very much in this tradition, and the writing is rich, though somehow the bonds between the young women feel underdeveloped.
Despite the mystery that moors Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, which makes for an engrossing novel, Fu’s characters also seem somewhat remote. The strongest chapter in the book isn’t about any of the small cadre of five girls at all; it’s about Andee’s sister Kayla. Fu’s writing shines here -- it is where she explores the cross sections of religion, misogyny, family ties, and class.
Ultimately, The Long Girls of Camp Forever in a novel about searching. The girls search for a way off the island. In flashbacks, and flash forwards, they search at different times for family, for careers, for happiness, for friendship. Yet as the girls grow older, despite all of the searching, each remains a little lost. Their stories are disjointed. We wait for them to reconnect, to rejoice in bond and a friendship, soldered together by a hugely significant event in their lives, but they never do so. Perhaps Fu is suggesting that these girls remain lost, lost forever, but somehow, they remain so even for readers.
Lena P. Afridi is a writer from New York City. Her work has appeared in publications including Al Jazeera, Mask Magazine, and The New Inquiry. You can find her on Twitter @lpafridi.