Almost everything about Kim Fu's The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore looks like a young-adult novel—the overlong and fantastical-sounding title, the apparent focus on youths, the dreamy starlit cover with oars crossing in the center—but it's not. It's a gripping survival story about the lives of six diverse women—Nita, Andee, Kayla, Isabel, Dina, Siobhan—who first meet at an all-girls summer camp in the Pacific Northwest.
Fu, who reads from the book at Elliott Bay Book Company on February 13, opens her novel with some classic summer-camp tropes. The girls sing songs around the fire, feel embarrassed about their developing bodies, form friendships, and harass the weak. Though these social dynamics might sound familiar, Fu renders the particularities and weird ambiguities of preteen cruelty in ways that will transport you back the fluorescent horrors of your own middle-school cafeteria.
After an unexpected tragedy, some Lord of the Flies shit goes down at the camp. The girls find themselves lost and without supervision. There are bears. There are rumors of a cougar. Food supplies are low—peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, some trail mix, and exactly one joint. They're forced to make a lot of tough calls that will end up shaping their lives in unexpected ways.
The fascinating thing about the book is clocking the ways this traumatic experience in the woods touches each woman's life. Bad faith conversations about trauma so often flatten the nuances of survival—either you're cast as an oversensitive victim who requires a hermetically sealed safe space in order to watch a YouTube video, or you're an impervious warrior who thinks admitting any degree of victimhood amounts to a full return of power to the aggressor.
But as Fu (who was once an intern at The Stranger) breaks up the main narrative with the stories of the women these girls would become, we see a spectrum of responses to trauma. Sometimes the traumatic experience helpfully guides their decision-making, sometimes it's seen as an omen, sometimes it manifests as a sense memory that pops up unexpectedly in the middle of social situations and either ruins the night or doesn't. Some responses to the same trauma aren't even the same every time.
Though the tragedy and subsequent fallout at Camp Forevermore affected each woman's life differently, and though their lives diverge as often as they intertwine, they share a resilience Fu embeds into the structure of her sentences. She builds them short, clean, and straightforward. This consistency gives her the ability to drop an extremely intense image or profound line out of nowhere, create convincing cliff-hangers, or slowly increase the stakes of a scene until you feel like a frog in suddenly boiling water.
But the great achievement of the novel is the way Fu renders her characters. These portraits of sisterhood, motherhood, daughterhood, wifehood, girlfriendhood, independent womanhood, and other female-identified-hoods sing and groan and scream with complexity and nuance, and they make me want to read her next ten books.